The Way Things Were
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In “Billet of Last Resort,” an irascible shrimp boat captain, who favors parolees as deckhands, sails under mysterious circumstances for Campeche, Mexico from Galveston with little explanation to his suspicious crew. Other stories in this collection include “Country Life,” a story that details a diplomat’s travel from Paris to a small village to persuade a retired official to undertake a sensitive mission to America. Set in Iowa, in “Land of Giants,” a young, just minted wind turbine mechanic sets out on his first job only to encounter an unforeseen calamity that threatens to derail his right of passage. In “A Pause on the Road,” a discharged Marine returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan succumbs to the wiles of a lonely woman while hitchhiking back to Texas from South Carolina. Set in 1944 “How do You Say Chicken in French?” explores the grim outcome of a U.S. Army platoon’s efforts to find something to eat in the aftermath of fighting their way ashore on the Normandy beaches. In “E.R.C. No. 922,” an aging couple reluctantly takes up the government’s offer to relocate them to an entitlements camp, a Gothic tale about how the Baby Boomer generation may have to live to survive old age in the 21st century. “An Ostend Story,” is the incidental tale of a spinster Belgian bookbinder. When an unknown American unexpectedly hires her his interest in her work is offset by an offer that is both puzzling and complicating. In “Building Bookshelves in the Air,” a father accompanied by his two young sons is delighted to discover an old Brittany farmhouse up for sale. Extravagant notions of redoing the place fill his head until he learns in some complicated way the old woman who lives there alone comes with the house. “Before the Rain” explores the dispassionate moments, and often-unappreciated efforts, shouldered by a family of grown children and their spouses while visiting and caring for a cantankerous older father who lives alone.
In “Monsieur Gruner’s Cellar,” a Swiss boarding school student charged with finding more wine to extend his and his friends late-night revelry descends to the cellar beneath their dormitory and witnesses a shocking act of violence, and other stories.