Set in the western sagebrush steppe, Site Fidelity is an exploration of life on the shifting terrain of our changing planet. Spanning the decades from the 1970s to a plausible near future, this debut introduces characters who must confront the challenges of caregiving and loss alongside the very practical impacts of fracking, water rights law, and other agricultural policies.
Debut author Claire Boyles’s new collection Site Fidelity includes ten stories that come, deeply, from place. Boyles’s places strike me not so much as architectural—though they do serve structural purposes within the fictions—but as abundant natural resources that Boyles lovingly mines. Her settings exist as characters in their own right, carefully detailed, possessed of complex backstories, and imbued with definite, sometimes dangerous, agency ... In some cases, place provides not plot but rich detail—raw material that Boyles uses to create her characters’ layered interior landscapes ... Boyles seems to prefer the more naturalistic impression of an unresolved ending, but sometimes the avoidance of resolution can feel a little like a dodge. But that may be a novelist’s complaint, one that masks underlying praise: I wanted to stick with these vivid characters and settings all the way, to live through their problems until justice was done or comfort found ... Site Fidelity pines for its lands, too, testifying to their beauty and power while alerting us to their fragility, reminding us of the importance of paying attention to place.
Claire Boyles’s collection of short stories, Site Fidelity, seamlessly fuses the lives and struggles of ordinary people in the American West with the wider challenges of living in a natural environment stressed by climate and economic changes ... Boyles has written stories of surprising range, while maintaining a focus on how human beings—particularly men—are imperiling our planet through careless exploitation and short-term economic goals. She also deftly marshals a number of themes we traditionally find in literature about the American West ... despite a gripping sense of a world out of joint, Boyles never completely gives up hope that we can work to heal both our human and natural world, and offers hints of reconciliations and resolutions that leave the reader both thoughtful and challenged.
That balance between hope — or acceptance — and forbearance factors into all 10 stories in the collection, which offer an unrelenting clarity. These are characters that don’t deceive themselves, even as they try to see the good, or at least the tolerable, in what they have ... This is the real stuff, adulthood at its most complex, in which we often find ourselves complicit even when we’re not at fault. Boyles makes the point explicit by linking several of these stories in a pair of overlapping cycles, one involving Mano and her sisters and a second built around Bobby’s community. It’s a strong decision, grounding the book within its landscape and making the stories bigger, more connected, than they might appear on their own ... That none of this will be resolved should go without saying. Life is open-ended until it stops. Boyles weaves such knowledge deep into her narratives, choosing to end many of them in the middle, in the moment just before the trouble starts. It is a deft and daring choice ... The questions Boyles is raising are universal. How much do we matter? What is a single lifetime worth? She doesn’t sugarcoat the answers; the communities in Site Fidelity face problems that are intractable and growing worse. All the same, she wants us to consider: What else do we have?