Southern Cultures 7.2 (2001) 115-119
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This Is Where We Live
This Is Where We Live: Short Stories by 25 Contemporary. North Carolina Writers. Edited by Michael McFee. University of North Carolina Press, 2000. 296 pp. Cloth $29.95, Paper $16.95
Over the course of the past two decades, Michael McFee has probably worked harder than any other single person to promote the burgeoning literary renaissance taking place in North Carolina: as a regular book reviewer for Raleigh's Spectator and Chapel Hill's wunc-fm, as the editor of The Language They Speak Is Things to Eat: Poems by Fifteen North Carolina Poets (University of North Carolina Press, 1994), and as the director of the University of North Carolina's Second Sunday Readings Series (in which over one-hundred North Carolina writers have participated). McFee's most recent contribution is This Is Where We Live: Short Stories by 25 Contemporary North Carolina Writers. While making his selections, he read "hundreds" of stories by "dozens" of writers before settling on his best twenty-five. Many of the stories have previously appeared in collections published by their authors, though in a number of cases McFee has rescued gems from relative obscurity, such as Jennifer Offill's sublime "The Deer," which first appeared in the Gettysburg Review,and Daniel Wallace's darkly humorous "Slippered Feet" from the Massachusetts Review. McFee, the author of five volumes of poetry, brings a poet's sensibility to his editing, selecting stories whose language is precise, vivid, economical, and original. Moreover, he has chosen not to include novel excerpts, and each story has the completeness of a five-course meal, even the shorter lyric pieces.
The stories in this collection are richly diverse in voice, style, and subject matter, and McFee's careful arrangement calls attention to the many ways that they comment upon each other. Coming-of-age stories by Dale Ray Phillips and Marly Youmans are balanced by stories of aging and dying by Daniel Wallace, Peter Turchi, and Joe Ashby Porter. In Lawrence Naumoff's "Moon Pie over Miami" and Luke Whisnant's "Across from the Motoheads," we find raucous domestic comedies in a distinctively lowbrow southern idiom, while Candace Flynt's [End Page 115] "Dancing with Father" is a tender elegy with the elegance and poise of ballroom dancing. Sarah Dessen and Tom Hawkins offer bittersweet stories of wayward love, while Philip Gerard, June Spence, and Melissa Malouf plumb the darker spaces of a collective psyche in stories of suspense and disclosure.
The title, This Is Where We Live, taken from Tony Earley's story "The Prophet from Jupiter," suggests the abiding importance of place throughout the collection, apparent both in the formative influence of place on character and in the recurrent themes of geographical and cultural estrangement. We find characters longing for people and places left behind and forging homes in new landscapes. In John Holman's "Squabble," an unemployed college professor returns to his hometown, an African American community on the outskirts of Durham, and relearns the language of his people. In "Last Rite," Ron Rash convincingly recreates Appalachia as pioneer communities might have found it. In "Monette's Fingers," Heather Ross Miller explores the pioneer impulse of a contemporary North Carolinian, a park ranger who moves his family to a secluded national park in order to exercise the same instincts of stewardship that his yeoman forebears knew. In Ruth Moose's "Oranges and Friends," a pretentious painter relocates his wife to a remote farm, a return to the land that Moose critiques as inauthentic, though one that unexpectedly allows the wife to discover her own artistic talents as a potter and thereby to rediscover her connection to the earth itself, declaring, finally, "I am the clay."
In the lead story, Michael Parker's "Commit to Memory," the narrator recalls his father's obsession with geography; the man required his children not only to memorize the names of the fifty states and their capitals, but the names of North Carolina's one hundred...