"Many of the stories in this collection are set in Arizona, and McIlroy skillfully portrays both landscape and people. Distance between places in the desert is a recurring notion, and the emotional distance between people mirrors the geographically imposed isolation. . . . In many of the stories, promising relationships begin by chance, end in deceit and disappointment, yet leave characters transformed."
"The eight stories in this impressive collection, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, are distinguished by stylistic precision, diversity of subject, and a subtle authenticity in the mapping of the postmodern psyche. . . . All our relations are indeed examined in these tales. McIlroy casts a cold eye on the white center and the multicultural margins. He trusts his own perceptions and limns them with a firm and independent hand."
McIlroy offers unflinching and original portrayals of human weakness, solitude, and survival in the rural Southwest. In these stories, imperfect characters leading battered lives are as indomitable as the granite mountains and canyons that surround them . . . Tightly focused and tersely eloquent, McIlroy's stories chronicle human inconstancy and end up affirming a tranquil wisdom."
In "The Big Bang and the Good House", Tony, a former drug dealer, pits his urge toward chaos against the orderly pleasures of marriage, finally yielding to the solidity and spaciousness of domestic love: "I feel myself gathering weight, density. Cautiously, I allow myself to inhabit this Good House, which surprisingly fits like my own body". Julia, the aging protagonist of "Simplifying", risks her fragile health in a love affair; her generosity of spirit toward her lover is matched in inverse proportion by the frugality with which her lover doles out his affections. In "The March of the Toys", a young woman flees Delaware, her chronically ill father, and her grieving mother, only to find that she's traded the neediness of her family for the harrowing disturbances of her lovers. She muses, "I couldn't affect anyone's life. I could only attend it".
In "Hualapai Dread", an investment broker's infatuation with an enigmatic Hualapai Indian woman, as elusive as she is beautiful, brings out his most predatory instincts and unmasks her own deceit. Acting on similar but more destructive impulses toward the object of his sexual obsession, a character in another story takes his soon-to-be ex-wife on a bizarre "honeymoon for divorce". The close-knit family of "Builders" breaks under the strain of constructing their dream house with their own hands, and eventually they are forced to leave behind the illusion of safety and permanence: "Once the three had imagined themselves as a house on a hill, dug into stone with the tenacity of a lion. Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure".
Embodying the transience and openness of the New West, the characters in All My Relations reinvent themselves, even as they struggle with the age-old, perilous necessity of loving.
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