In this inspired debut collection, Sam Silvas examines the claustrophobia that comes from growing up in a small town and the enigmatic search for happiness inside and outside of it. Whether a man settles for life in Stanton or attempts to escape it, the choice is fraught with unforeseen consequences as the outside world butts up against the ways of his hometown.
In “Buck Stew,” a raffle prize of a Glock handgun suddenly offers heartbroken, long-time Stanton resident Jack Dixon new means to solve old problems. In “The Pottery,” the town’s clay pipe and tile plant physically towers over the town and looms large emotionally for the main character Danny Padilla, who has come to believe his significance can be measured in inches, be it a bullet from his beloved Weatherby .270 or the placement of a tile. In “Eat the Worm,” Todd Randle has been gone from Stanton for ten years when he returns home with his outsider bride. Within days of moving back, Todd finds his past glories may very well threaten his future happiness. He sets out to find answers in a sad and bizarrely touching encounter with his father over a Monday Night Football game. The signature piece of the collection is the novella, The Unluckiest Man in the World. Set near Stanton on the Sacramento Delta, it is inhabited by a family of glaziers, as fragile as the glass they install. The unnamed narrator has aspirations to move beyond the history that every male in his family appears destined to repeat. When he meets and falls in love with Katie McPherson, a fellow denizen of the Delta, all his bad luck seems to be behind him, but the past is as dangerous and powerful as the current of the river that he lives on, threatening to pull him under.
The town of Stanton is a character in all these stories, one that proves to be both a sanctuary and a prison to its inhabitants. This distinctive collection rightfully takes its place among great regional fiction.