cover image The Woman in the Oil Field

The Woman in the Oil Field

Tracy Daugherty. Southern Methodist University Press, $12.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-87074-403-7

Daugherty, author of two novels, What Falls Away and Desire Provoked, shows himself to be a skilled practitioner of the short-fiction form in this, his first collection. These tightly structured stories, set in the South, exude a sharp, gripping intelligence while navigating the treacherous shoals of familial and romantic relationships. The stories are grouped into three loosely related sections: Part One involves relationships between friends and lovers and the choices made to continue or end them. With blistering and believable human tension, the four stories in Part Two detail the contentious relationship between a son and his artist father--both before and after the father's death. They unfold without sentimentality but not without tenderness. Part Three includes two stories of women struggling between their identities as women and their places in countries of political unrest: ""Akhmatova's Notebook: 1940"" imagines a tumultuous year in the life of the renowned Russian poet. Through letters written by a woman from revolution-ridden countries and the reaction of the man she left behind, ""The Observatory"" expertly engages the reader in the couple's intimate history. In the collection's riveting title story, one character ominously notes that ""none of us ever recovers from the first time we listen to someone else's sadness. We spend our lives refuting or repeating, trying to come to terms with the tales we've heard."" These are those kinds of stories. (Dec.)