In the Devil’s Territory by Kyle Minor

Posted: June 11, 2009 in Book Reviews
Tags: , , ,

devilcoverfinalIn his impressive debut collection, Kyle Minor displays his range for writing various styles of compelling narratives.  Comprised of six short and long stories, In the Devil’s Territory explores themes of family, religion, gender, sexuality, regret, shame, fear, identity, aging, and mortality—among others.  These themes work like threads, connecting the very different and unique stories that make up this collection.

“A Day Meant to Do Less”—selected as a Best American Mystery Stories 2008—acts as one of the load bearing supports of this book, nearly reaching novella length.  Franny, an elderly woman, is haunted by a childhood secret of physical and sexual assault from her older cousin.  This episode redefines her understanding of fear, which leads to strained relationships within her immediate family.  Unable to care for herself or properly communicate with anyone, Franny must rely on her only son to bathe her, even though she no longer recognizes him.

In, “The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party,” a man’s pregnant wife is dying, and he gains perspective on the situation after balking at one of her simple requests.  For a brief moment, their family finds a smidge of joy in a dire time.

Confused by his own sexuality, a pastor attempts to live his life in denial until he is reacquainted with his past in “A Love Story.” And in, “The Navy Man,” a married businesswoman looks for lust on her business trip, only to find love for the first time.

“goodbye Hills, hello night” tells the story of a shamed and regretful young man who recounts the events that led up to his incarceration.  And in the title story, a young woman, fleeing communist East Germany, is unable to help all of her family members get beyond the wall.  She brings the remaining members to America and becomes a schoolteacher.  A man, living in the shadow of his successful brother, tries to make a better life for his son.  Social and cultural survival, along with fear, brings these people together.  Misunderstanding causes them to take harsh and regrettable action against each other.

Of the many things I enjoy from these stories, the narrators—how they each have a way with words that’s different from one another—jump out to me.  How they tell their stories sticks with me:

She did not know what he meant to do, but she had been admiring his new brown belt with its metal buckle the shape of Kentucky, and she thought if they really were going to play house, he might just whip her like a daddy would a mommy, and if he did it with that brown belt he might forget to take off that metal buckle, and wouldn’t it hurt to get beat about the buttocks and back by Kentucky.

Minor makes strong and meaningful connections in these stories, and he avoids being heavy-handed when drawing parallels from one part to another.  The reason being—for me, at least—is that these stories are so engaging that I’m not worried about what literary tricks Minor might be performing.  It’s not to say these stories are conventional or straightforward.  They work on multiple levels, and they ask questions of the reader.  But what they do best is blend intriguing narrative with great character insight:

Baseball was all he had.  Everyone tends to dwell on that.  They think it’s so terrible that he lost out on baseball, and they don’t see what’s more terrible, which is none of the rest of us ever thought we had anything to lose out on at all.

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