At the Owl Woman Saloon: Stories

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9780684847566: At the Owl Woman Saloon: Stories

Tess Gallagher is best known as a distinguished poet. She also collaborated on the film Short Cuts, based on the short stories of her late husband, Raymond Carver. But in this luminous collection of short stories -- her second -- she establishes herself as a fiction writer of the first order.

Set primarily in the Northwest, where the author was born and has lived for many years, these stories tell how people do more than cope with the hard turns and snares of their lives. We watch them take the unexpected next step as they face their dilemmas. Gallagher invents wholly original characters and renders them with lyrical intensity. As with the great short stories of Flannery O'Connor, Gallagher's prose animates the themes of love, human pain, and healing.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

A solid, if sometimes conventional, second collection (after The Lover of Horses, 1986) by poet Gallagher. The 16 tales here are alive with intriguing characterizations, though several suffer from listless plots and excessive detail. Many of the pieces focus on the emotional repercussions of losing a loved one (Gallagher was married to Raymond Carver). In the amusing ``My Gun,'' a recent widow is forced to deal with hitherto unexpected elements in her husband's past. Her droll meditations on whether or not to buy a gun for protection are interwoven with her narrative of shocked discoveries. Another quirky tale on the nature of widowhood, ``Mr. Woodriff's Neckties,'' describes the mannerly relationship between Mr. Woodriff, a famous novelist dying of cancer, and his next-door neighbor, whose wife also has the disease. Told with sweetness and a pragmatic attitude toward life and death, the story revolves around the small acts of kindness between the two men (like when the neighbor knots a tie for Mr. Woodriff, who never learned how), deftly probing the nature of charity. ``Rain Flooding Your Campfire'' offers a clever play on narrative consistency when the narrator's version of events (the visit of recently widowed friend Norman) challenges Mr. G's story. She and Mr. G work together at the gas company, though Mr. G is actually a failed novelist, looking for material from wherever he can find it, so that Norman, who is blind, offers great grist for Mr. G`s mill. Outshining Mr. G`s quirkiness is ``The Poetry Baron'' (as he likes to think of himself)--a middle-aged English professor with Napoleonic delusions and the quintessential roving eye. Many of the stories are distinguished by a meditative, sometimes somber, humor. A worthwhile collection, then, with a few failed tales, focusing on the simple patterns and complex relationships of everyday life. -- Copyright 1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Booklist:

Gallagher's newest short stories--all set in the Northwest and featuring a robust cast of distinctive characters, from chatty hair dressers to thoughtful loggers--possess the precision of poetry and the drama of good screenplays, which comes as no surprise given her adeptness as a poet and her experience cowriting screenplays with Raymond Carver, her late husband. Each tale is notable for the purity of its narrative voice, concreteness of detail, potent evocation of place, and smooth acceleration from the utterly ordinary to the bewilderingly extraordinary. Take "The Leper," for example. A woman is talking to a neurotic artist friend on the phone (much to her husband's annoyance), and rolling out a pie dough, when men begin delivering flowers for a funeral she knows nothing about. Then she looks out the window and (impossibly, mysteriously) sees a herd of horses swimming out to a nearby island. Gallagher turns this series of striking non sequiturs into a fable of resonant emotional truth, a feat she performs to perfection in each gleaming and redeeming story. Donna Seaman

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