Off the Beaten Path: Stories of Place

Joseph Barbato, Editor, Lisa Weinerman Horak, Editor
Joseph Barbato, Editor, Lisa Weinerman Horak, Editor North Point Press $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-86547-530-4
Reviewed on: 06/01/1998
Release date: 06/01/1998
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-86547-538-0
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Thirteen literary powerhouses, including Annie Proulx, Howard Norman, Rita Mae Brown and Lee Smith, visited Nature Conservancy sites and contributed top-of-form short stories to this excellent collection. As Barbara Kingsolver explains in her foreword, the writers ""took pilgrimages to places where they could think straight, remember, and properly invent."" While paeans to wild places, most of these tales are imaginative flights transcending setting. Norman's ""The Chauffeur"" is a haunting account of the relationship between a bookish driver, Tuttle Albers, and the older Japanese woman he transports each week from San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore, where she never does see the white pelican she's looking for. After she dies, Tuttle's experience with an injured pelican affects his romantic relationship with a zoologist. Also a standout is Richard Bausch's ""Glass Meadow,"" in which two young boys are adrift with their irresponsible parents. When they hole up in an empty cabin and the father orders them to go out and kill something to eat, 12-year-old narrator Patrick comes up against his own savage nature in a comical, bittersweet encounter with a phlegmatic cow. Humor also enriches Brown's ""Early Lessons,"" in which the young narrator learns from her feuding mother and aunt about the food chain. While some stories--""A Blackfoot River Fable"" by David James Duncan and ""Fiber"" by Rick Bass--are didactic, and others--Smith's ""Botanizing upon the Mountain""--are enigmatic, overall this is a cohesive whole, evoking the spirit of our nation's wild landscape and its power to nurture and to heal. (June)
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