New and Selected Stories
By Valerie Trueblood
386 pp. Counterpoint. $26.
Trueblood’s stories are like the Tardis in “Dr. Who.” They’re small on the outside, but once you’ve stepped through the door they expand in all directions until, by the end, surely it’s a novel you just finished reading. Part of that effect comes from her tightly packed opening lines, which fling the reader directly into the middle of the action. Consider the first sentence of “Beloved, You Looked Into Space”: “Our father married a woman who took an ax to a bear.” Or this, from “You Would Be Good”: “The burglar was stoned when he cut his way in.” Sometimes it takes a while for the story to catch up, but it always does.
There’s a change, though, when you reach Trueblood’s new material, which comprises 30 of this collection’s 49 stories. Amid these hard-to-categorize observations, essays and reminiscences (perhaps) is writing that’s much more urgent and unnerving, as in “Helen of Troy,” about a woman murdered by her husband “in a land of guns. Men with guns, attacks, death, attacks in broad daylight, attacks called domestic, death, clouds of sulfur, children’s heads exploded.” Dogs and human violence recur: people saved by dogs, dogs saved by people, the ubiquity of war and loss. But all isn’t dark; there really is a story, called “Stay,” both sad and beautiful, that ends with “They lived happily ever after.” And there are lots of dogs in it.