Monday, October 19, 2015

Review: "A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me" by David Gates

A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me, author David Gates’ first book in 16 years, is better than I thought, but I’m quite sure that it won’t reach a massive audience, given its subject matter and contrarian style. Gates is an author I really only know of from a few Charlie Rose interviews he did in the mid-nineties, and the one book of his I have read, his last book, The Wonders of the Invisible World, also a short story collection, I have forgotten in the years since I have read it. I feel the same fate will befall this book, which is filled with really good stories, but none that are really great. It was refreshing to read them, since they are about real people in real situations, and not just post-modern thoughts and musings stretched out into narratives that are too big, with flimsy subtext shoehorned in to make them feel less shallow. There is none of that in this collection. It is filled with people, upper class for sure, but people who nonetheless are trapped by long ago poor decisions or, a few more times than I’m actually comfortable with, their inability to keep it in their pants (mostly men). It’s very much in the genre of suburban malaise, like the novels of the two Richards, Russo and Ford.  A few stories stick out, one being the opening 90 page novella, “Banishment”, about a woman whose failed relationships are simply mirrors to her own selfish need to view love as a game. This is a good anchor story, and it had to be at 90 pages, and shows what you are in store for. Two others, “A Secret Station” about a doctor who whose attempts to be a better person are stalled by his poor health and sexual misgivings, and the wonderful “Locals” where a small town’s dying breaths are characterized at a wake for one of the town’s own, are the best this collection has to offer. These stories can come off as a bit shallow, and a little too weird to be anything but curious fiction pieces, but if you want some short stories with a bit more physical heft, and want to read about people you might meet in real life, this will more than satisfy you. 
Rating: 4/5

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