Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KNAU's Latest Southwest Book Review: Little Raw Souls

Colorado Book Award winner Steven Schwartz has said that in a fast-paced world "fiction restores us" to a softer place in our lives. Schwartz has just published his third short story collection, Little Raw Souls. And in KNAU's latest Southwest Book Review, writer Ann Cummins calls the collection "a gem".

Steven Schwartz is a master short story writer. Little Raw Souls. That's his new collection. These are powerful stories about memorable souls fighting their demons.

Imagine this: You own 100 acres of beautiful red rock country on the Colorado/Wyoming border. One day, a young couple calls you up. Providence has led them to your sacred land. They need to walk on it. She's 7 months pregnant.

You're a nice guy. Like, when your ex-wife needs a shoulder to cry on, you're always there. You're 68 years old. You always play by the rules. You don't believe in providence, but you're inclined to indulge these kids. After all, they drive a van with a license plate that reads BLESS EVERYONE, NO EXCEPTIONS.

Then you get the news that the young husband has shot a deer out of season. Shot it with a pistol. Said he needed to feed his family.

What you don't know about yourself, but will discover as events unfold and he turns that gun on you, is that you've been longing for a moment when fate snaps its fingers and says, "Awake!" Will he be a hero, the guy with the gun in his face? Or, will he be a victim. The story's resolution reveals that for this man, wearied by a lifetime of good behavior, big questions don't have simple answers.

My favorite story in the collection is a bittersweet tale about a 37 year old man with multiple sclerosis. Everett's demon is his own immune system. One day, he receives a notice from the SPCA. An anonymous neighbor has complained about his dogs. Then, there's a note on his windshield. A computer printout that reads BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK...

Now there's a new enemy, a passive aggressive neighbor afraid to face him. He girds from battle and finds the villain. But he discovers a quiet man with demons of his own. The neighbor hears everything, even the electrical currents in the walls. In a perverse act of camaraderie and defiance, Everett begins howling in the night, knowing somebody's listening.

Set in a variety of landscapes across the southwest, from northern Colorado to Tucson, Santa Fe to Sedona, each of these stories is a gem. They give life to souls who might be cynical but still hope for meaning, souls scraped raw with living. They are anything but little.

Ann Cummins is Professor of Creative Writing at Northern Arizona University. She has published stories in The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, Antioch Review, and elsewhere; her fiction has been anthologized in a variety of series including The Best American Short Stories, The Prentice Hall Anthology of Women’s Literature, and The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories. A 2002 recipient of a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship, she is the author of the short story collection Red Ant House, (Houghton Mifflin, spring, 2003) and the novel Yellowcake (Houghton Mifflin, 2007).