Saturday, October 20, 2012
A New Yorker discovery : Callan Wink
Callan Wink, a rarity in a number of ways, appears to be a New Yorker discovery - these days we very seldom see a relatively unpublished author appear in the New Yorker, so it's great to see them take a chance once in a while - it was easier for them to do so back in the day when they published two stoires per issue, now we're grateful to get even one - Wink had at least one previous story in the NYer - unusual in a second way in that he writes about working-class people, ranchers mostly, in the West (he apparently lives in Montana): I know this area has been tapped before, most notably by Proulx and by McGuane and by Ford (though with the latter two it's more often the new West of real-estate booms and vacation ranches). Wink writes with a real authenticity, and he avoids the self-conscious, ostentatious style of a lot of writers so eager to show that they know the technical details about stuff like milking goats and repairing antique watches. He writes with an easy confidence - without his belaboring the point, you get a quick understanding that Wink is on familiar and comfortable territory, he's not a drive-by tourist writer, done a little research and packed the material up as his own. Especially appealing about his story in the current NYer, Breathalians (?), is its confident focus on a preteen protagaonist - 12-year-old on ranch, where his parents have just broken up and mother lives in an outbuilding alone and kind of crazy or at least eccentric, dad lives in main house with much younger woman whom initially he'd hired as a hand. The boy, August, just beginning to understand what all this is about: his father having sex with a woman just a little older than he, the sudden and sad death of the dog he'd been raised with, his mother off her hinges smoking like a fiend and wearing bizarre clothing and believing she can subsist on only air (hence the title of the story) - so much for the young boy to take in, and he doesn't understand it all, yet, without overdoing the sentimentality or the drama, Wink shows us how the boy struggles against his dad while still loving (and maybe fearing) him, and how he takes on a brutal and unpleasant task (killing stray cats in the barn) and all that this violence expresses and unleashes for August. Though the setting is Wink's own, the qualities of the story evoke some of the work of McCullers, Salinger, Powell, among other fine writers who have written about sensitive and observant young people trying to make sense of the adult life - the passions and cruelties that they don't quite understand - unfolding around them: the action is outside of them (Member of the Wedding, for example) but the drama is within.