Callan Wink’s debut collection of stories stands as a promising start to a fine literary career. Some of the stories included here have deservedly appeared in such prestigious magazines as Granta and The New Yorker. The opening story, the eponymous ‘Dog Run Moon’ is one of the strongest, displaying Wink’s talent for finely-managed suspense laced with powerfully evocative language. It recounts an episode in the life of Sid who has stolen a dog from a local Mafioso businessman called Montana Bob. The story opens with a description of Sid running for his life with the dog at his side. The discreetly alliterative physicality of phrases like the following root the reader’s attention from the outset: ‘Sid kept going, hobbling, feeling the sharp rimrock make raw hamburger out of the soles of his feet’. The story is a first-rate read and ends poignantly, revealing the reason why Sid knowingly runs the risk of stealing a Mafioso’s thoroughbred for the sake of mere companionship.
The second story in the collection, entitled ‘Run Off’ is perhaps less breathtakingly vivid but provides a formally interesting solution for how to make a main character disappear and still bring a story to a satisfactory resolution. ‘Run Off’ focuses on the relationship between a young man, his father and the young man’s older mistress.
Although these stories are all set in similar rural areas of America, there is a fair amount of situational variety, making each new beginning an exciting initiatory moment. ‘One More Last Stand’ is set on a holiday resort in which Custer’s last battle against the Indians is re-enacted. Perry, the protagonist, dresses every day as a soldier and makes sure he is ‘killed’ by the same axe-wielding squaw on each occasion, finally raising the suspicions of his fellow enactors. The two battling lovers make the most of the death-tussle to fondle each other in public during the battles in the most discreet ways and then re-enact the scene in their hotel room at night, despite the fact that Perry is married. It’s an engaging variation on the ‘make love, not war’ slogan and Wink pulls it off magisterially.
‘Breatharians’, one of the stories previously published in The New Yorker, portrays an episode in the life of a youth who has been given the task of eliminating dozens of pullulating kittens in a barn, as if they were no more than pests. Wink’s use of animals in these stories is always interesting. His eye for animal behaviour is unerring and his portrayal of animals as whipping creatures for human bereavement, anger and frustration is a harrowing but fine example of his mastery of indirection.
‘Off the Track’ is another story that works well from the word go. With a setup like this, it’s hard to put a foot wrong when you have Wink’s talent for story-spinning: ‘The day before Terry had to report to Saginaw to start his sentence, he went fishing with his grandpa’.
Some readers might find the endings to these stories a little anticlimactic, as Wink tends to avoid twist or shock endings, but the resolutions he crafts never merely peter out, always achieving satisfactory closure in the tradition of unsensational high realism.
The final fifty-page long story entitled ‘In Hindsight’ charts the life of a woman from youth to old age, an ambitious Bildungsroman time-period to tackle in the parameters of such a short form. Wink’s command of ellipsis is such that the time-lapse storytelling works seamlessly. Characters age and mature very compellingly and Wink has a way of condensing the turns and evolutions of relationships that is invariably subtle, unfalteringly sure-footed.
Although the tone of these stories is always deeply serious and tonally consistent, there are flashes of humour that lighten the grittiness of Wink’s sombre realism. Lauren, the focal consciousness of ‘In Hindsight’ has two dogs that she refers to collectively as Elton John. Another example of Wink’s engaging narrative winks appears in the opening story, ‘Dog Run Moon’: one of Sid’s assailants is called Charlie Chaplin, an onomastic choice which provides an intriguing measure of menace and comedy combined.
By Erik Martiny
Dog Run Moon by Callan Wink, Granta, £12.99