cover image The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus

The Uncollected Stories of Allan Gurganus

Allan Gurganus. Liveright, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-87140-378-0

Gurganus’s vital collection (after Lost Souls) portrays small-town Americans, mostly oddballs and misfits, at moments of self-discovery as recounted in their own authentic voices. Several stories take place in fictional Falls, N.C., once called “the Athens of This Far into Eastern North Carolina,” according to the tour guide in “The Deluxe $19.95 Walking Tour of Historic Falls (NC).” Small-town residents like Falls’ know each other’s secrets and relish the telling. In “The Mortician Confesses,” a 60-year-old undertaker has sex with a corpse, and the man’s sad story is colorfully told by the cop who caught him. In “Unassisted Human Flight,” a reporter investigates a local legend of a man said to have flown almost a mile as a boy of eight. The characters can also be heroic, as when a 65-year-old widower rescues his neighbors during Hurricane Floyd in “Fourteen Feet of Water in my House,” and an Ivy League doctor saves a Midwestern town from cholera in “The Wish for a Good Young Country Doctor,” set during the 1850s. Among the greatest entries in this stellar work are “My Heart Is a Snake Farm,” featuring a spinster whose life in a crumbling Florida motel brightens when a slippery charmer opens a reptile tourist attraction, and “He’s at the Office,” which details a son’s efforts to help his 80-year-old father, a WWII veteran mentally stuck in the 1940s. Simultaneously funny and compassionate, literary and lowbrow, Gurganus’s stories trawl the mysteries of the human heart and surface with wonderful results. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM Partners. (Jan.)