We angled our heads back and opened our mouths like fledgling birds. Smoke gave the cool air a faintly burned flavor, an aftertaste of ash. A single flake lit on my wife's eyelash, a stellar crystal, cold and intricate. I blew a warm breath over her face, melting the snow.
I felt like I knew so much about the relationship between these two people at the end of this, the opening paragraph of Up North, and yet D'Ambrosio had written nothing explicit. In it the odd balance of this relationship between a husband and wife unfolds as we learn of the woman's rape, and see her husband try to function in the machismo-driven world of the womans' father, brother and cronies. It is a grotesque meeting of bravado, of promiscuity, and of a wish for intimacy.
The Scheme of Things is the story of two down-and-out scam artists and is an oddly tender and even sweet little tale. The title story is in a bleak, Bukowskian vein. A man gets out of prison and finds project carpentry work on a pornographic film. The stunning writing and the grimy, disturbed mileu make for an odd marriage.
Behind a thick sheet of acrylic, the desk clerk's face rushed up at him; it spread and blurred, white and without features, but never seemed to reach the surface. Ramage leaned forward and looked through a circle in the slab of glass, cut like a hole in ice. On the counter was a dinner plate with chicken bones and a few grains of rice hardening in brown gravy, and next to the plate was the splayed and broken spine of a romance. The clerk had been working over the chicken, cracking the bones and sucking the marrow. Her hair was tin and her teeth were leaning gray ruins in her lipless mouth. Her blue eyes were milky and vague, the pupils tiny beads of black. Ramage could not imagine a youth for her - it was as if she'd been born fully ruined...
God that's good.
The penultimate tale, Blessing, is like many in this book, one of a person finding themselves in a duo of some kind - a marriage, a friendship, a father-son relationship - but I mean in this case - really finding themselves. These stories seem to be acts of discovery that come upon the characters in the midst of the mess of daily living. I guess one could say they are insights. And in that way they are, I suppose, moments of brightness, or at least of clarity, though that doesn't mean that they necessarily look very 'nice.' But that is, I feel, the value of the experience of reading them - that and the sheer beauty of D'Ambrosio's language - it is revelry.