I read a lot of short story collections and once in a while I come across one that does more than dazzle on the technical level, does more than introduce me to foreign lands, does more than show me a different side of humanity. Once in a while I come across a collection, such as this one, Kyle Minor’s “In the Devil’s Territory,” that does all those things and at the same time, reaches in and holds my heart all the way through, sometimes giving it a pinch or a jab, and other times stretching it, stretching, until I fear the very flesh of it might rip, then massaging it gently back to …to…well to a state of calm, but most definitely changed.
What struck me most about the six stories in this collection is that all of them have redemption at their core without being obvious about it. Minor’s characters stumble into or upon grace through the ordinary, such as with the first harrowing story of a man on the verge of possibly losing his pregnant wife and his child, and through all of this drama his understanding of his own mother’s pain, both literal and metaphorical stands out. Ironically, it is in the quiet moment in the end of the story between three generations of men that the reader can find a seed of grace.
“A Day Meant to do Less” is as rich as a novel. It begins with a man left with the troubling task of undressing his mother and takes us through the journey that was the woman’s life. In the end, the reader understands that is the secrets we refuse to reveal that are our eventual undoing.
Minor shows us the many faces of love in his story “A Love Story,” and how lives are affected when people attempt to squeeze such an abstraction into neat boxes.
In “Goodbye Hills, Hello Night,” we see how for a young man out with his friends a night can start innocent enough and end up with a murder. And to that young man the murder might have appeared inevitable but upon further inspection he knows there was opportunity for prevention all along and how then does he live with that? He’ll live with it through the generosity of his father. It is this quiet, understated scene at the end of the story that best underscores Minor’s success in delivering uncontrived redemption.
In “The Navy Man” I think I fell in love a bit. For how could I resist such assured knowledge of the other? The reader is introduced to the fact that once again love is not something that can be shaped or channeled, but rather, like it or not, love often has a will of its own and we can stifle that will or we can flow with it.
And in the last story Minor tells us the story of several people whose pasts lead them along a path that merge unhappily in the end and without spoiling the story, I will point out the inspired genius of Minor’s last sentences: “Mistakes were made long ago. It is someone else’s fault. We can’t be held responsible, but we are very sorry.”
Sadly I'm leaving out comments regarding the many gems inside this collection, all the ways in which the sentences glitter, all the wisdom, all the loveliness, all the earth-shaking ugliness. But perhaps it's best for you to discover them on your own.
Yes. I think it is.
- Originally from Vermont, I now live in North Carolina. My work can be found in recent issues of REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, The Jabberwock Review, The Emerson Review, Storyglossia, The MacGuffin, Confrontation, Passages North, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, wigleaf, and Pank, among others, and forthcoming from Gargoyle #57 and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters. One of my stories has been translated into Farsi by Asadollah Amraee, and many others by Jalil Jafari, two of which have been published in the Iranian journal, Golestaneh Magazine. For two years I worked as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. Currently, I serve as a mentor for Dzanc's Creative Writing Sessions. I'm working on two novels and a short story collection. In May, I was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship for the 2011 Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.