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  • What Happens After
  • Rusty Barnes (bio)
A Woman Walked Into the Bar
Linda H. Heuring
All Nations Press
196 Pages; Print, $22.00

In the wide-ranging subject matter of this collection, Heuring's characters, most of them women of a certain age, struggle with the decisions they've made along the ways of their lives. In a story typical of the book, the strong opener "On Cursed Ground," Tina is a middle-aged photographer in the throes of depression, who lives on the edge of a swamp and on the edge of loss following the death of her husband Jason, a few weeks before the story begins. Tina is idly, if that's an accurate word, contemplating her own suicide.

In the midst of this, her friend Mary Jo shows up instinctively to try to knock Tina out of the doldrums, but she meets some resistance. Tina asks, "How do you do it, Mary Jo? There's no CCTV out here. Swamp cam? I know, swami cam?" Mary Jo brushes off the question and tries to nail Tina down regarding her recent emotional response. "So tell me, Tina, that I don't have to worry about dragging the swamp with a grappling hook?"

After Mary Jo leaves, Tina downplays her suicidal ideation and walks out to her garden expecting to find rot and weeds and all manner of mess since her husband's death, she instead finds that one of her photography subjects, a family who lives in the swamp, has tended her garden in the absence of her and her husband's care. Their presence and the care they've given her husband's garden gives her a measure of hope in the midst of her loss, and by story's end she's buoyed and ready to rejoin normal society.

Heuring also shows her chops in a story that rewards repeat readings, "Victim of Circumstance." Blocked writer Henry Elms' physician wife Hillary has been missing for two days, and authorities want badly for him to be the culprit in the disappearance. They interrogate him again and again about their life together while they carry out a search on and around the island of St. Maarten, where the couple traveled for a brief working vacation. They go as far as to question his motives for writing, his relationships with Hillary's parents, and even his investment portfolio. They also suggest Hillary was having an affair with another doctor for which Henry, in their narrative of the crime, has murdered her for her money. Heuring ratchets the tension in these scenes.

The crawl. That's what they called that annoying business running across the bottom of the screen, distracting you from whatever the one with perfect teeth mouthed with such breathless enthusiasm. "Chicago surgeon missing from Caribbean island resort" would be wedged in between this celebrity's weight loss and that one's gain, moving so slowly across the screen a preschooler could sound out the words. Eventually the story would move from the crawl to the feature box with Hillary's passport photo, and Hillary would blame him.

Even though the police are absolutely convinced of Henry's guilt, he sticks to his story through the rigors of formal interviewing and informal questioning. In a skillful bit of plotting, the narrative the authorities follow is not at all the one which ends up resolving the story satisfactorily, and Heuring's writing never ceases to thoroughly convince. In the end, blocked writer Henry finds a new narrative.

The title story, in what reads like a prompt-based story—woman walks into a bar, then what?—a self-described "college shit" student and bartender must deal with a drunken and violent woman named Nettie, the last member of the formerly illustrious Cartwrights, a family whose name adorns the college's art center. In a long dark night of the soul, the narrator must deal again and again with the consequences of Nettie's life, helped along by her regular customer, Richie. He tells part of the real Cartwright story, which does not involve the arts center but instead involves his childhood memories...


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