Grasshopper Falls

Merrill Gilfillan, Author Hanging Loose Press $21 (95p) ISBN 978-1-882413-69-0
A feeling for life on the Great Plains and a respect for fictional resonances lend Gilfillan's 15 stories a quiet glow. In precise, glistening prose, the poet and award-winning essayist (Chokecherry Places) presents a slim collection of vignettes that include historical anecdotes, sketches of contemporary reservation life and extended observations on the vagaries of existence. ""Missouri Story"" tells how two hobos, Hiram and Ferol Johnson, are caught by a farmer sleeping in his barn, and get a taste of 1902 rural brutality. In ""Grasshopper Falls,"" an Indian family discovers an old man dying in a shack in the hills and tries to establish his identity. ""Men in Shadow"" is a three-part story carried by its own music, as the narrator encounters some men lazing in the shadow of a tree near the Porcupine/Wounded Knee divide in the Black Hills, telling each other tales on a hot summer day. ""Uncle and Shrike"" exemplifies the aesthetic that shapes these sketches. The narrator is a boy spending the summer camping with his uncle at various spots around Wyoming and Nebraska. The uncle is an elderly, literate man who is beginning to suffer from bouts of mental blankness, signaling the onset of senility. At one camp, the two hear a man describe a disaster that befell a father and son fishing in Lake Erie. Afterwards, the uncle says: ""He had his hands all over that story... That's not the way it's done. When you tell a story you treat it as you would a person."" Gilfillan treats his stories gently, and never gives the reader more than is necessary. By means of that economy, he manages to evoke the uniqueness of the Great Plains, and the manner in which human drama there folds back, sooner or later, into that enduring landscape. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/29/2000
Release date: 06/01/2000
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