The End of the Straight and Narrow by David McGlynn is one of those rare story collections that doesn’t allow the reader to take a breath. All of the stories are powerful and finely crafted, and Part II of the book, consisting of five linked stories, is simply stunning.
In “Moonland on Fire,” Gary’s son, Nolan, arrives to the spend the summer fixing up the house Gary shares with Rhonda, the evangelist he took up with when things weren’t going well between Gary and Nolan’s mother. Rhonda has her own issues, stemming from the death of Kirk, the helo pilot who was almost—but not quite—her husband. When one of those wind-fanned California fires approaches, everything changes.
My favorite story of Part I is “Seventeen One-Hundredths of a Second” in which Jonah and Abby are coping with the death of Abby’s husband, Charlie, who happened to be Jonah’s best friend. There is a suggestion that Jonah had stronger feelings for Charlie than he thinks he should have, and he has only transferred those feelings to Abby. It’s a very long story, but a terrific read.
Part II of the book is fascinating. McGlynn has created a family of great characters: Cordelia, who loses her sight during the birth of her son, Rowdy, who narrates the stories; Lee, her husband; Kay, the nurse who takes care of Cordelia but who eventually becomes Lee’s lover; Jill, Rowdy’s little sister; and Rowdy’s grandmother. In the five stories we follow these characters from a birthday party in which their relationships are all made clear to the reader, even if Rowdy doesn’t quite see; to Kay’s personal struggles and choices, past and present; to Rowdy’s discovery and subsequent quarrel with Jill; to the father’s revelation and religious awakening; to the hurricane that alters the fabric of their lives.
The writing throughout is beautiful. It’s a terrific collection.