In Terese Svoboda’s expansive new short story collection, Great American Desert, her meticulous and lyrical prose brings these stories to life in ways that are often stunning, deeply felt, and uniquely perceptive ... Taken as a whole, the collection is like layers of stratum that produce a beautiful yet ominous portrait of an ecosystem that’s given more than it can sustain, and people who have taken more than they deserve ... Great American Desert should join the ranks of other landmark short story collections set in the same region, like Ron Hansen’s Nebraska and Annie Proulx’s Close Range. Svoboda has yet to achieve the same level of name recognition as the former two, but she is obviously a master of the form and willing to take the type of risks that are the bedrock of fresh and surprising fiction ... read [the book] soon, before the sea levels rise, the glaciers melt, and the wells have all run dry.
Throughout nearly two-dozen short, intense stories, Svoboda expresses a singular and powerful presence in settings ranging from toxic waste dumps to small-town parades, through characters’ voices hushed around kitchen tables or blasted through the fog of war. Relationships are both tangled and straightforward, and the intricacies of disappointments plaguing fathers and daughters, husbands and wives are offset by the abiding tenets of hardscrabble life in a great American desert that demands of its citizens a certain rectitude and courage. A remarkably evocative exploration of an iconic region and its denizens.
A poet, memoirist, librettist, translator, and more, Svoboda has always engaged language as a tool of exploration. Her enigmatic sentences, elliptical narratives, and percussive plots delve into the possibilities of form, genre, and plausible futures, but always with an eye on the vast subterranean psychologies of her all-too-real creations. A challenging author’s take on the most challenging of subjects—the survival of our species from its distant beginnings into the possible future.