Winner of the 2010 Bakeless Prize for Fiction, a muscular debut that reconfigures the American West
The American West has long been a place where myth and legend have flourished. Where men stood tall and lived rough. But that West is no more. In its place Shann Ray finds washedup basketball players, businessmen hiding addictions, and women fighting the inexplicable violence that wells up in these men. A son struggles to accept his father's apologies after surviving a childhood of beatings. Two men seek empty basketball hoops on a snowy night, hoping to relive past glory. A bull rider skips town and rides herd on an unruly mob of passengers as he searches for a thief on a train threading through Montana's Rocky Mountains.
In these stories, Ray grapples with the terrible hurt we inflict on those we love, and finds that reconciliation, if far off, is at least possible. The debut of a writer who is out to redefine the contours of the American West, American Masculine is a deeply felt and fiercely written ode to the country we left behind.
Ray's engrossing collection is set in and around rugged Montana terrain and trades heavily in themes of pain, forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope. From the opening story, "How We Fall," dysfunction is established as a common undercurrent; the rocky relationship between a husband and wife hinges on alcoholism, infidelity, and unconditional absolution. "The Great Divide," the best and most ambitious piece, is about an "oxlike" Indian man aboard a train on the trail of an elusive thief, providing the perfect counterweight for the short standout "The Way Home," about a father changing his behavior in order to properly care for his newborn daughter. Sobering reality has the restorative power to reboot the strained marriage in "The Dark Between Them," the father-son bond severed by child abuse in "In the Half-Light," and in "When We Rise," where two former basketball players yearn for their halcyon days. Ray's collection has an unsettling power as his roughened characters incrementally come to terms with their humanity, fallibility, and their realized capacity for atonement. This is a highly accomplished and intensely lyrical debut.