by Charles Baxter
I like Baxter’s writing: he always seems to know what he is doing, even when his characters don’t, and that makes me trust him. This particular collection of about a dozen stories is one of his older books (it came out thirteen years ago) and most of the stories were previously published in places like The Georgia Review, and a fourth were anthologized.
In “Fenstad’s Mother,” Fenstad struggles to be a good: a good man, a good Christian, a good son, a good teacher — but they don’t seem to mean the same thing. The differences between how life looks on the outside and how it feels on the inside is explored in “Westland.” In other stories, a preacher struggles to “get it,” an adopted man’s biological and much more successful brother tracks him down, a man suprises his family when he brings a homeless guy home for dinner, a man driving drunk rolls over his car and winds up in a former failing student’s living room in the middle of the night.
Baxter’s characters lead lives that seem so normal, even (especially) in the ways they are broken. Seeing how they will get out of their situations, or not get out but go on, is always interesting and worth reading. Recommended.