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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eminent Domain

Eminent Domain by Dan O' Brien
Reason for Reading: Short Story Challenge
Rating: 3.5/5

The short stories in this collection could be called modern westerns; themes include nature, cowboys, and the decline of the American farmer.

I read these stories over a series of months, so some stick out in my memory while I hardly remember others. The title story is by far the best. Subtitled "A Love Story", it opens with the following line:

You can say a lot of things to a woman, but don't ever tell her not to let the door hit her in the ass on the way out, because she won't. She'll be gone before that door has a chance to slam and she won't be back until long after the sound of that slam has stopped ringing in your ears.

So says Willy Herbeck, the "meanest, most insensitive son a bitch the world has ever seen" about his wife Shirley. The state has decided to buy his property through eminent domain, and Willy Herbeck being as stubborn as he is insensitive decides to take a stand. Hiding among his junker cars, he waits, shotgun in hand to defend his land. Not even his wife, Shirley, can change his mind, it seems.

This story switches without break between the points of view of Willy, the official trying to get Willy off his land, and Shirley. Its an interesting narrative technique, although it might bug some people. Throughout the stories, O' Brien uses different techniques like that, shifting abruptly between past and present or in one story giving us the perspective of a winter migration from the point of view of a goose and gander.

I've never been one for westerns, but I found myself drawn to some of these stories by the spare writing that in a few words gives you a picture in your mind of the farm or the cowboy or the relationship he's describing. I would recommend this one to anyone who does enjoy westerns or likes short stories.

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