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Drowned Boy: Stories (Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction)

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"These [stories] are rust-belt blues, then, a vision of and lament for a past time and a swiftly changing place. They're not showy—the language is plain, the tragedy muted, the comedy low-key and wry—but they stick in the mind. Ray Carver would recognize these characters and situations, as would poet Philip Levine. I like to think that they would share my appreciation for "These [stories] are rust-belt blues, then, a vision of and lament for a past time and a swiftly changing place. They're not showy—the language is plain, the tragedy muted, the comedy low-key and wry—but they stick in the mind. Ray Carver would recognize these characters and situations, as would poet Philip Levine. I like to think that they would share my appreciation for this fine first book, built slowly and carefully over some years, and worth the wait."—Andrea Barrett, from the foreword Jerry Gabriel delivers an unsentimental portrait of rural America in Drowned Boy, a collection of linked stories that reveals a world of brutality, beauty, and danger in the forgotten landscape of small-town basketball tournaments and family reunions. In "Boys Industrial School," two brothers track an escaped juvenile convict, while in the titular novella, a young man and woman embark on a haphazard journey to find meaning in the death of a high-school classmate. These stories probe the fraught cusp of adulthood, the frustrations of escape and difference, and the emotional territory of disappointment––set in the hardscrabble borderlands where Appalachia meets the Midwest. Jerry Gabriel studied at Ohio State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has worked as a science writer and taught writing at a number of colleges and universities, including, from 2001 to 2008, Cornell University's Engineering Communications Program. Currently, he is a visiting assistant professor of English at St. Mary's College of Maryland.


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"These [stories] are rust-belt blues, then, a vision of and lament for a past time and a swiftly changing place. They're not showy—the language is plain, the tragedy muted, the comedy low-key and wry—but they stick in the mind. Ray Carver would recognize these characters and situations, as would poet Philip Levine. I like to think that they would share my appreciation for "These [stories] are rust-belt blues, then, a vision of and lament for a past time and a swiftly changing place. They're not showy—the language is plain, the tragedy muted, the comedy low-key and wry—but they stick in the mind. Ray Carver would recognize these characters and situations, as would poet Philip Levine. I like to think that they would share my appreciation for this fine first book, built slowly and carefully over some years, and worth the wait."—Andrea Barrett, from the foreword Jerry Gabriel delivers an unsentimental portrait of rural America in Drowned Boy, a collection of linked stories that reveals a world of brutality, beauty, and danger in the forgotten landscape of small-town basketball tournaments and family reunions. In "Boys Industrial School," two brothers track an escaped juvenile convict, while in the titular novella, a young man and woman embark on a haphazard journey to find meaning in the death of a high-school classmate. These stories probe the fraught cusp of adulthood, the frustrations of escape and difference, and the emotional territory of disappointment––set in the hardscrabble borderlands where Appalachia meets the Midwest. Jerry Gabriel studied at Ohio State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He has worked as a science writer and taught writing at a number of colleges and universities, including, from 2001 to 2008, Cornell University's Engineering Communications Program. Currently, he is a visiting assistant professor of English at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

30 review for Drowned Boy: Stories (Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petter Nordal

    I love this book so much that I don't know how to express it. I love this book as though it were a cat or a favorite spot in the woods. Every work of fiction has theory, has a worldview, a way of understanding the world, a way to evaluate what's important and explain why things happen the way they do. The best books spill into life, confuse me about what's happening in my life and what's in the book. It's not as though I confuse the characters or the settings, but the worlds. When I'm reading thi I love this book so much that I don't know how to express it. I love this book as though it were a cat or a favorite spot in the woods. Every work of fiction has theory, has a worldview, a way of understanding the world, a way to evaluate what's important and explain why things happen the way they do. The best books spill into life, confuse me about what's happening in my life and what's in the book. It's not as though I confuse the characters or the settings, but the worlds. When I'm reading this book I feel like every thing is that very thing itself. A window means a window, the meaning of a tree is exactly the same thing as that tree. It's as if everything in the world is perfectly comprehensible if you just stop and pay attention: family, love, our neighbors, our towns. I've spent less than two weeks in Southern Ohio, almost none of it in a town, but after reading this book I feel like I've spent years there, as though I have lost touch with dear friends and family who live there. I'm sorry I can't go see them. That's the best I can do.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Casey

    I hesitate to call this collection linked, though the jacket copy on the back of the book does, because I think that sometimes readers (myself included) have certain expectations about what a linked collection should do or be. For example, do all the stories have to take place in and around the same setting? Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio is probably the most famous example, and a more recent one is Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff (interestingly, both in Ohio. In fact, Gabriel's collectio I hesitate to call this collection linked, though the jacket copy on the back of the book does, because I think that sometimes readers (myself included) have certain expectations about what a linked collection should do or be. For example, do all the stories have to take place in and around the same setting? Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio is probably the most famous example, and a more recent one is Donald Ray Pollock's Knockemstiff (interestingly, both in Ohio. In fact, Gabriel's collection takes place mostly in Ohio, too. Hmm. . .I may be on to something here. Maybe that's the only criteria for a linked collection - it must take place in Ohio. . .). But if setting is the main criteria, then why, for example, aren't Stuart Dybek's The Coast of Chicago or James Joyce's Dubliners typically considered linked collections? Do they have to include the same character or characters? If so, does the same character have to narrate every story, or can they narrate one story and turn up as a secondary character in another? I'm thinking this time of Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. I suppose the point of my digression is to say that I'm not comfortable labeling Drowned Boy a linked collection. It certainly does some of the things above, but there are other elements that aren't so easily identifiable - the shift in setting and the long gaps in time to name two. The stories in this collection follow, with only a couple exceptions, the lives of Nate and Donnie Holland, brothers growing up in southern Ohio. In the first story, "Boys Industrial School," Nate is eight and Donnie twelve, and by the final story, "Reagan's Army in Retreat," sixteen years have passed. It's what happens, or doesn't, in the sixteen years that make up the bulk of the collection. What the early part of this collection does really well, particularly in regard to Nate in "Boys Industrial School" and "Falling Water," is convey the feeling of being a child at the age when you begin to know just enough to know you don't know anything about the world of adults. It seems too often in stories with children narrators or children as pov characters, they think and act outside or above their age. This isn't the case here. Gabriel does a great job of presenting Nate as a real, eight-year-old kid. In "Marauders" and "Slump," there are only passing references to Nate. These stories are thematically similar in that they're both sports related, but they also both convey the feelings of isolation, disappointment, and stagnation of the people in the town. In fact, "Marauders" is told in with a plural narrator. "Atlas" is the only story that really takes place in the middle of the sixteen year span, but it focuses less on Nate and Donnie as it does on their Uncle Donald's relationship with his son, Phillip, and Donald's debilitating fear of the change. The last three stories, "Drowned Boy" (a long story or novella, you choose), "Weather," and "Reagan's Army in Retreat," take place at or near the end of the sixteen year time frame of the collection. "Drowned Boy" is notable for the way it's structured. It's an alternating point of view story and the two story lines come together and separate in interesting ways. In this story we learn that Donnie has joined the army, and Nate and Donnie's father has died. It's the lack of connection within this story that makes it hard to reconcile with. In "Weather," Donnie gets his turn as narrator, and he's stationed in north central Kansas. And in "Reagan's Army in Retreat," Nate has gone to Kansas in search of his brother, but as readers we don't know why or what for. There is a lot of mystery in this collection, and I'm not talking about the genre kind. There is so much we don't know about Nate, but especially about Donnie. He's an enigma, and we as readers can't know him out because Nate doesn't even really know his him. I guess what I want is more. I suppose that's a critique, but in a way it's a compliment to the writing. I want to spend more time with these characters. I want to know why Donnie can't seem to settle, and why Nate feels the need to chase him across the country. We don't get any of this. Near the end of the "Reagan's Army in Retreat," Nate, who's thinking back to when he and Donnie were kids, says, "I was happy to be back with him in that moment, before every inevitable thing that came to pass afterward" (154). I want to know what "inevitable thing[s]" have come to pass. If a character is looking back at his life at 24 and can recognize that the things that have happened were inevitable, I want to know about those things and that life. That's really something, but I felt it was missing. All in all, I enjoyed the collection. The writing is very strong, but subtle, and the setting--something I didn't touch on above--is handled beautifully throughout. I look forward to whatever Gabriel does next. For more, see my blog: http://thestoryisthecure.blogspot.com/

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shelley

    Spoiler Alert- Beware: Drowned Boy: Stories is a quick read of 154 pages. It's a collection of eight linked stories that takes place in rural America in Moraine, Ohio (for the most part). The two main characters are brothers, Donnie 12, and Nat 8, and it takes place over a time span of 16 years. It's like reading pockets of someone's childhood with lots of gaps in-between and the conclusion is when the youngest is only 24 chasing his brother across the US, and we don't know what happened to their Spoiler Alert- Beware: Drowned Boy: Stories is a quick read of 154 pages. It's a collection of eight linked stories that takes place in rural America in Moraine, Ohio (for the most part). The two main characters are brothers, Donnie 12, and Nat 8, and it takes place over a time span of 16 years. It's like reading pockets of someone's childhood with lots of gaps in-between and the conclusion is when the youngest is only 24 chasing his brother across the US, and we don't know what happened to their relationship or why he is trying to find him. To me, I felt like the story never had a conclusion, but maybe that's the whole purpose. I really enjoyed the stories; really good writing. I felt the author did a great job getting into the head of a 8 year old, coming across as a true 8 year old, and not like an adult trying to sound like a 8 year old.

  4. 5 out of 5

    True Reader

    I met Jerry Gabriel last week at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. He is a visiting faculty, just for a semester and unfortunately I am not in his class and so won’t be able to experience that. However, I was able to make it to some of his lectures, one on the different forms of dialog and the other on killing your darlings–which meant killing off your characters in fiction and seeing how that will change your plot. Both lectures were helpful and interesting, especially the second, for m I met Jerry Gabriel last week at the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts. He is a visiting faculty, just for a semester and unfortunately I am not in his class and so won’t be able to experience that. However, I was able to make it to some of his lectures, one on the different forms of dialog and the other on killing your darlings–which meant killing off your characters in fiction and seeing how that will change your plot. Both lectures were helpful and interesting, especially the second, for me. I was also fortunate enough to watch Jerry read from his novel-in-progress one evening and while reading Drowned Boy, I was constantly hearing his voice read the words of it in my head, which is good, as it fit the tone of the book itself. Drowned Boy is a collection of stories, but also a bit of a novel. The chapters are in a chronological order with each revolving, or focusing on a small town and the brothers Nate and Donnie Holland. Some chapters are narrated by Nate, another by Donnie. A couple are in third person and one is narrated by someone who observes both brothers and part of the community they are a part of. Think Olive Kitteridge but with a more sparse and bleak writing style, Cormac McCarthy-esque. The book refers to itself as a collection of stories, which is true enough. Each chapter has a beginning, middle, and end that make each stand alone. But I don’t know why you’d want them to. Each story adds a new layer to the ones before them. Readers will travel through time with Nate and Donnie learning more about their relationships they have with the world around them. The themes running within Drowned Boy reflect a grim reality that only the Ohio winter brings. The contemplation on death, individuality, and the self is subtle, yet leaves the reader with questions about their own lives. In Slump, the boy, Sherman, who is brilliant at baseball purposefully sabotages himself in order to focus his attentions on different things, things he enjoys more. An old umpire recognizes what is happening and tries to confront Sherman. “You can’t just fake something like that,” I said. “You can’t just kill a part of yourself. . . “ “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Mr. Kern,” He said. He looked genuinely bewildered that I would be talking about killing things, and it seemed, somehow, that he had just wanted me to know–who knows why. Because he rightly suspected that it mattered to me. But he had nothing to gain by explaining it all now, six years after the fact, how he had sabotaged himself. Why. Drowned Boy is peppered with these clever insights that don’t only develop a character into a person in the readers min,d but also gift the reader with a lesson on what it means to be ones self: our choices indicate to the world who we are far more than our abilities and Slump goes a long way to understanding that. Readers who enjoyed Olive Kitteridge as well as enjoy the sparse style of McCarthy would do well in checking out Drowned Boy. It’s a thoughtful look on life that leaves the reader with more to ponder about themselves than before.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    This ended up being a good lesson for me in what I do and don't like in short stories and collections overall. There's a lived in quality to the characters, which is great. What started to bother me was that the characters kept thinking that they didn't know what to say. I'm fine, actually I enjoy, when characters know what they want to say, but can't. That feels essential to Midwest stories. However, almost all of them not knowing what to say starts to be bothersome. I'm also a lover of place. This ended up being a good lesson for me in what I do and don't like in short stories and collections overall. There's a lived in quality to the characters, which is great. What started to bother me was that the characters kept thinking that they didn't know what to say. I'm fine, actually I enjoy, when characters know what they want to say, but can't. That feels essential to Midwest stories. However, almost all of them not knowing what to say starts to be bothersome. I'm also a lover of place. Unfortunately (maybe), this can turn into being a stickler about it. The stories set in southeast Ohio are rendered nicely. The problem is that when the stories move West, they feel the same in terms of place. Kansas is very different from southeast Ohio. More of a contrast between places would have been more interesting, especially because the characters are looking to get away from their small Ohio town. Also, as a collection overall it seemed to be missing momentum or something. Two characters appear a few times, but I don't feel I know them all that well by the end. I also felt the same way about the town. It felt like a lot of set up without much pay off. Now that said, there are still some great things about the collection, including some inspired word choices. What I also appreciated about this book was that while violence and death intrudes into character's lives, the stories are not bleak. Sure bad things happen to people, but their lives don't seem to be without the possibility of happiness. For me, this is a writer to watch because even though there's some unevenness here, I'm curious to see what comes next.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ana Spagna

    What I most admire about these fabulous linked stories set in rural southeast Ohio is the seamless way that landscape and longing and community combine in prose that’s honed, spare, and often, astonishingly, funny. The dialogue, especially between the two main characters, Nate and Donnie Holland, brothers as different as day and night, is snappy and original. In the title story, a grief-struck teenager considers geological history: “The idea that a river might change direction had captivated Sam What I most admire about these fabulous linked stories set in rural southeast Ohio is the seamless way that landscape and longing and community combine in prose that’s honed, spare, and often, astonishingly, funny. The dialogue, especially between the two main characters, Nate and Donnie Holland, brothers as different as day and night, is snappy and original. In the title story, a grief-struck teenager considers geological history: “The idea that a river might change direction had captivated Samantha at a time when almost nothing sparked any real interest in her.” In “Marauders,” a whole slew of old-timers latch onto the local elementary school basketball team like rock star groupies: “We traveled like gypsies to these little towns—places called Mudsock and Comersville and just plain Water.” You read a lot these days about a “sense of place” in writing, usually it means extra-lyrical prose about extra-pristine landscapes. These stories evoke place plainly, and therefore elegantly. They show how places – pristine and, especially, not-so-pristine – mold us irrevocably, then shift unexpectedly. In the closing story “Reagan’s Army in Retreat,” Nate goes looking for Donnie only to stumble upon a house fire after which all that remains is a talking robot trivia game on eight track tapes stuck in the snow, a game that had once belonged to the boys. If there’s a more poignant image of loss, I can’t conjure it. And if a better collection of short stories comes out this year, I’ll be very surprised.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Crytzer Fry

    I had the wonderful opportunity of listening to Jerry Gabriel read from this book at the Flagstaff, Arizona book festival last spring. A resident of northwestern Pennsylvania growing up, then northeast Ohio for six years, I found Gabriel's depictions of the area not only entertaining, but spot on. The last names of many of the characters made me feel as though I were reliving my childhood (so many of them were actually the same as neighbors, relatives and friends). And, frankly, the rural Ohio s I had the wonderful opportunity of listening to Jerry Gabriel read from this book at the Flagstaff, Arizona book festival last spring. A resident of northwestern Pennsylvania growing up, then northeast Ohio for six years, I found Gabriel's depictions of the area not only entertaining, but spot on. The last names of many of the characters made me feel as though I were reliving my childhood (so many of them were actually the same as neighbors, relatives and friends). And, frankly, the rural Ohio setting in the "Drowned Boy" novella could have been my own childhood backyard. I was also drawn to Gabriel's depictions of the landscape (and geologic explanations). Setting, indeed, does so much to influence life - not only in fiction. This is actually the first story collection I've ever read, and while I prefer longer-length fiction, I appreciated Gabriel's clean writing style and his ability to link the stories together as he created a portrait of rural life. Many of the stories focus on sports, as well as family bonds (and dysfunction), and even how tragedy can lead to introspection and questions about the meaning of life and death. At 154 pages, this was a quick little read that left me thinking about my hometown and many of my own classmates that I left behind when I moved away.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    The setting is Moraine, OH, a sleepy little town full of the ordinary in life. This novella and group of stories weaves the lives of the town into a interesting blend. The author has an amazing ability to put you into the mind of the characters and you feel as if you have been in many of these situations yourself. The stories are dark, almost depressing, but they really show you to value life and the relationships that we do have.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Abigail (Abbe)

    I loved that two brothers were the focus of all the short stories of this novella. I have not encountered this in a novella before. I loved the title story best. I enjoyed that the stories were set in Ohio, as I have also lived there. I enjoyed that the author incorporated geology into the stories when possible.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Anita

    Gave it a real chance and it delivered, just as Tom Daley had promised. Interconnected stories. Disturbing and revealing of a rural, male adolescence. Not connecting with me on a personal level, but of interest intellectually.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ruth Conrad

    These linked stories take place mostly in southeastern Ohio, and the characters and setting feel very familiar to me. I really like Gabriel's writing style, and I will be watching for more fiction from him. These linked stories take place mostly in southeastern Ohio, and the characters and setting feel very familiar to me. I really like Gabriel's writing style, and I will be watching for more fiction from him.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Deanna

    Ordinary but powerful.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jzarah

    Absolutely in love with the Mr. Gabriel's voice. His clear, calm style alone drew me in - the stories are an added bonus. I'm enjoying every page! Absolutely in love with the Mr. Gabriel's voice. His clear, calm style alone drew me in - the stories are an added bonus. I'm enjoying every page!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Duke

  15. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  16. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jen Michalski

  18. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sarabande Books

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  21. 5 out of 5

    William Tyree

  22. 4 out of 5

    Libby

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jenn(ifer)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jana Gibson

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lara

  26. 5 out of 5

    Yujin

  27. 5 out of 5

    Max

  28. 5 out of 5

    Shawn

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joe L

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gail Luther

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