cover image Stories from Mesa Country

Stories from Mesa Country

Jane Candia Coleman. Swallow Press, $28.95 (152pp) ISBN 978-0-8040-0949-2

In the final story (``Learning the Names of Things'') in this compelling first collection set in the Southwest, the narrator remarks that the pioneer women settlers ``did what they had to do, and if they shed tears over being uprooted and leaving loved ones, they did it in silence, inside where no one could see.'' It is an accurate description of Coleman's ( No Roof But Sky ) protagonists, both male and female, through whom she invigorates the traditional western with fresh perspectives. The six stories that comprise the section called ``Mesa Country Then'' focus on characters who have been historical footnotes. `Tumbleweed'' brings us inside the head of Mattie Earp on the day her husband Wyatt participated in the shootout at the O.K. Corral. In ``Prickly Pear,'' Catharine Bascom observes, ``There is a peace in being alone, in having the home to myself, empty of husband and sons.'' Yet her fate is to make love with the outlaw Johnny Ringo on the last day of his life. The remaining eight stories, which take place in the present, are generally less powerful: for one thing, the setting is no longer a wild, untamed place of epic proportions. But the desert landscape remains a place for the quiet heroics of survivors. (Nov.)