cover image Read This & Tell Me What It Sa

Read This & Tell Me What It Sa

A. Manette Ansay. University of Massachusetts Press, $24.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-87023-988-5

Holly's Field, Wis., the setting for Ansay's well-received debut novel, Vinegar Hill, again serves as background for many of the 15 precisely crafted, haunting stories in her first collection. The people in this town in the heartland of America try to make do with their lots in life, but many of them are already alienated or isolated and know that things will never get any better. In ``Ohio,'' 14-year-old Stuart travels to Massachusetts to visit the father who left the family and the church where he had been a pastor. Stuart's father lives with a woman he is not married to and has a daughter named Mars. Although Stuart's mission is to win his father's heart back to Christ, by the end of his trip it is he who has had his eyes opened, who says he has the ``sense you've crossed over to some distant place and stayed just a moment too long, so that return is no longer a possibility.'' The adults in this harsh Midwestern landscape deal with poverty, sickness, aging and the desire to transcend their daily lives. Geraldine's husband, in ``You or Me or Anything,'' drives off into the snow one day and calls from different points along his meandering route, to tell her that he's not coming back, she should be sure to let the dog in at night, there's a blizzard in Minnesota. The stressed-out 15-year-old narrator of the title story, which won the 1992 Nelson Algren Prize, has become a compulsive thief because it helps her mind to grow ``absolutely still, that stillness you get when you walk into a church and know that you are safe there.'' Pressured by her family's expectations of academic success, she recklessly gambles with her future, and her life. All of Ansay's characters have a dignity earned by coping with their existence; they elicit compassion from the reader, but not pity, because they are strong and will come through. Stubborn and resourceful, they endow her fictional town with presence and credibility. (Oct.)