Mark's Reviews > American Masculine

American Masculine by Shann Ray
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Jul 24, 11

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Read from July 09 to 17, 2011

Stunning stories in this collection, stories of pain, sorrow, loss, and ultimately, redemption. Off but near the reservations of rural Montana, the narrators all suffer the ravages of alcoholism, child abuse, and the alienation of life in the city. The first story (How We Fall) sets the tone for the collection: Benjamin Killsnight, having left the reservation and married a white woman, stoically struggles with his own alcoholism and his wife's steady disintegration. She runs away from him, and "He worked on small hopes and limited understanding" while waiting for his wife to return. He considers the sorrowful history of suicides among his friends, she returns, and they survive.

Bleak but hopeful, the stories ring with austere images of natural life:

"In Montana on the high steppe below the great mountains the great birds called raptors fly long and far, and with their translucent predatory eyes they see for miles. The Blackfeet called it the backbone of the world. Once he watched two golden eagles sweeping from the pinnacled heights, the great stone towers. He was three hours from Billings, west past Bozeman. The day was crisp, the sky free of clouds, the sun solitary and white at the zenith. Hunting whitetail he sat on his heels, his rifle slung across his back as he glassed the edge of coulees and the brush that lined the fields. He used the binoculars with focused precision, looking for the crowns of bucks , that would be lying down, hiding. But it was high up to his right, along the granite ridge of the nearest mountain where he'd seen movement."

These are powerful and affecting stories, almost unbearable in their intensity, yet they almost all end in healing, forgiveness, and in the final story, a marriage. Shann Ray has an engaging, unassuming voice that is clear and deeply genuine. Transcending the boundaries of regional fiction, Ray speaks to universals with calm, unblinking accuracy. Only someone with a heart of stone could read these stories and not be shaken.
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