By Don Waters
This strong debut assortment, set within the light-filled deserts of Nevada and Arizona, introduces a darkly creative new voice. Like an early Richard Ford, Don Waters writes with ability, empathy, and an edgy wit of worlds infrequently celebrated in modern literature. In barren region Gothic, Waters unleashes a wild and gritty forged and issues them down paths of reckoning, the place the characters earn the grace in their hard-won knowledge. Set in bars, mortuaries, nursing houses, truck stops, and the “poverty inns that encircled downtown’s on line casino corridor,” Waters’s ten tales are choked with misfit transients like Julian, a crematorium employee who decorates deserted urns to create a “lush underground island,” and the moment Mormon missionary Eli, a hapless divorc? who “always likes humans higher while they’re a bit broken.” Limo drivers, ultra-marathoners, vagabonds, and a distraught novelist-to-be populate the pages of those gritty tales.
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Extra info for Desert Gothic (Iowa Short Fiction Award)
Eventually, when Nana insists on a nap, he walks the long route across the grounds to Mr. Epstein’s building. The old man, of course, is expecting him. Mr. Epstein stands bent in the yellow-lit open doorway, causing the dealer to wonder if the old man has eaten more than a macaroon since he left. They M r. E p s t e i n a n d t h e D e a l e r 45 clasp hands briefly, and for the first time the dealer senses a shiver of warmth in it. The dealer eases uncomfortably onto the La-Z-Boy and lays the white bag at his boots.
The barrio is a never-ending wilderness of heartbreak. Similar to the barrios of Tijuana, much larger than those of Nogales, it’s a world beyond description. A hill in front of a hill in front of another larger hill stacked high with tin-can shacks, and connecting each tin can hang lifelines, webs of wires, words trickling from the outside. 40 M r. E p s t e i n a n d t h e D e a l e r A stab of repulsion pierces the dealer’s lungs when he sees a fat young Mexican boy sitting against a pole and shoving a glob of dough into his mouth, grease just corroding his cheeks.
I didn’t know if I was prepared to see her yet, my mother. While my stepfather was quiet, my mother talked nonstop. It was as if she were an appliance permanently plugged in to the wall. But her talking was the same as quiet, because nothing was ever really said. Sometimes I played along, but it was strenuous trying to fake interest in her gossip. I climbed the stairs to the second floor. As much as I’d wished for it, my mother had never touched my room. As a consequence, it was a museum. I half-expected to find a plaque above the door, a wing dedicated to her only child.