cover image After the Gold Rush

After the Gold Rush

Lewis Buzbee. Tupelo Press, $14 (192pp) ISBN 978-1-932195-38-5

Though Buzbee sketches moving portraits of disconsolate children coping variously with the loss of a parent, his stories, which are fraught with the emotional fallout of fractured families, often buckle under an overload of meaning and twists of fate. Two linked tales, ""Red Weather"" and ""An American Son,"" follow Robert Macoby from his ""Sputnik baby"" 1950s boyhood in San Jose, Calif., to his improbable self-imposed exile and middle age repatriation. ""Red Weather"" turns on the poignant homecoming of Robert's retired Navy man father, Mac, but Buzbee awkwardly packs in the return of Mac's itinerant brother Nin, followed immediately by news of the death of their long-absent father. ""An American Son"" features Robert grown into a self-righteous writer. In 1974, Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag captures his 17-year-old imagination, and he impulsively ""defects"" to the U.S.S.R. (""In Russia...everyone already knew the promises were lies""), where he becomes a celebrated, state-sponsored novelist who marries his translator. She eventually leaves him for America, taking their baby boy along, and the story concludes with a futile family reunion after an 11-year separation. Buzbee includes some slight stories as well: in ""Hairpin,"" a vague father and daughter grieve their wife and mother, who died in a car crash they survived. ""Five and Dime"" depicts a struggling single mother and her 9-year-old son, who find a sense of home at the titular venue. Buzbee (The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop) treats his characters with empathy, but they fumble for connection in overdetermined or underrealized worlds.