All My Relations
By Christopher McIlroy
(University of Georgia Press, Paperback, 9780820333090, 208pp.)
Publication Date: August 2008
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Set against the stark but seductive landscape of the American Southwest, the stories in All My Relations explore the inner landscape of mind and heart, where charting the simplest course is subject to a complex constellation of relationships. In the title story of the collection, a Pima Indian hires on with a rancher in an attempt to quit drinking and to win back the wife and son who have left him. His efforts to master land and horses and to bake the perfect cake mirror his efforts to subdue his own demons and to embrace a peaceful domesticity.
In "The Big Bang and the Good House", Tony, a former drug dealer, pits his urge toward chaos against the orderly pleasures of marriage, finally yielding to the solidity and spaciousness of domestic love: "I feel myself gathering weight, density. Cautiously, I allow myself to inhabit this Good House, which surprisingly fits like my own body". Julia, the aging protagonist of "Simplifying", risks her fragile health in a love affair; her generosity of spirit toward her lover is matched in inverse proportion by the frugality with which her lover doles out his affections. In "The March of the Toys", a young woman flees Delaware, her chronically ill father, and her grieving mother, only to find that she's traded the neediness of her family for the harrowing disturbances of her lovers. She muses, "I couldn't affect anyone's life. I could only attend it".
In "Hualapai Dread", an investment broker's infatuation with an enigmatic Hualapai Indian woman, as elusive as she is beautiful, brings out his most predatory instincts and unmasks her own deceit. Acting on similar but more destructive impulses toward the object of his sexual obsession, a character in another story takes his soon-to-be ex-wife on a bizarre "honeymoon for divorce". The close-knit family of "Builders" breaks under the strain of constructing their dream house with their own hands, and eventually they are forced to leave behind the illusion of safety and permanence: "Once the three had imagined themselves as a house on a hill, dug into stone with the tenacity of a lion. Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure".
Embodying the transience and openness of the New West, the characters in All My Relations reinvent themselves, even as they struggle with the age-old, perilous necessity of loving.
Christopher McIlroy has taught creative writing at the University of Arizona and Warren Wilson College. A cofounder of the nonprofit corporation ArtsReach, which conducts fiction and poetry workshops in Native American communities, he is also a consultant to the Indian Education Unit of the Arizona Department of Education. His stories have appeared in Missouri Review, Fiction, Story Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, TriQuarterly, Magazine, and Sonora Review, among others.
"Set against the landscape of the American southwest, this collection of eight precisely observed stories offers a powerful and moving series of observations about love and relationships in the modern world. . . . McIlroy writes with a spare elegance, consistently displaying the illuminating detail or the evocative description. His stories are grittily real, occasionally disturbing, filled with the breath of life."—Publishers Weekly
"Many of the stories in this collection are set in Arizona, and McIlroy skillfully portrays both landscape and people. Distance between places in the desert is a recurring notion, and the emotional distance between people mirrors the geographically imposed isolation. . . . In many of the stories, promising relationships begin by chance, end in deceit and disappointment, yet leave characters transformed."—Library Journal
"The eight stories in this impressive collection, winner of the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction, are distinguished by stylistic precision, diversity of subject, and a subtle authenticity in the mapping of the postmodern psyche. . . . All our relations are indeed examined in these tales. McIlroy casts a cold eye on the white center and the multicultural margins. He trusts his own perceptions and limns them with a firm and independent hand."—Studies in Short Fiction
McIlroy offers unflinching and original portrayals of human weakness, solitude, and survival in the rural Southwest. In these stories, imperfect characters leading battered lives are as indomitable as the granite mountains and canyons that surround them . . . Tightly focused and tersely eloquent, McIlroy's stories chronicle human inconstancy and end up affirming a tranquil wisdom." -Kirkus Reviews