JE: We’ve come to expect amazing things from Graywolf, who can stand toe to toe with any shop in the business when it comes to editorial voice–to wit, in the past few months alone we’ve covered Ben Percy’s excellent The Wilding, and Alan Heathcock’s electrifying collection Volt. American Masculine may be my favorite Graywolf title yet– it’s our June pick over at The Nervous Breakdown Book Club.
These stories are magnificent. Grace. Power. Muscle. Forgiveness. These are the words that keep coming up every time anybody talks about Shann Ray’s prize-winning collection, which pubs next week– and a lot of people are talking. My first taste of American Masculine was at a reading Ray did at the Get Lit festival in Spokane a few months back (an amazing festival, btw, one the best organized and best curated in the country). When Shann hit the stage, I said to myself: Oh dear, this guy is actually gonna’ have his wife come on stage and strum a guitar while he reads. I was a little embarrassed for the guy. Well, his wife did come up and strum a guitar, and even sang in the dramatic pauses of the story. Even when I describe it, it sounds awful–something your hippie aunt and her friends might make you endure. But it was fucking magic. Shann read “How We Fall,” the first story in the collection, and I cried, not only from sadness, but from gratitude and awe. And I wasn’t the only one. There’s a ton of humanity in these stories, a ton of heart, a ton of gratitude. They are the antithesis of post-modern coolness, and that in itself is something worthy of celebration. The people who populate these stories are the hardscrabble people of Carver, and early Richard Ford, and Sherman Alexie, but Ray’s treatment is unique and transformative, and yes, graceful, powerful, muscular, and forgiving. I really wish there were more books like this.