Eveningland is a beautiful collection of six short stories and one novella that all focus on people who share a certain state of comfort and privilege as well as the state of Alabama in common. The central characters range from seniors to teenagers, but they are all from the right neighborhoods and the right suburbs of Mobile, Alabama. Not that they are the idle rich, the first story features a young man volunteering with the EPA to watch for oil seeping into the river from Deepwater Horizon’s spill and later working for his father’s marina. The last story features a man who inherits his father’s shipyard taking an unfinished but seaworthy boat out to try to avoid Hurricane Raphael.
The first story, Water and Oil, sneaks up on you, quietly charming you. It’s a story told by an old man living on a houseboat watching a high school senior coming of age, finding his first love–the inappropriate and already committed Dana Pint. In the background there is the high drama of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill slowly invading their home waters and destroying, at least for this season, their livelihood. In the forefront, the story is small, young love, mostly unrequited and the bittersweet memories it will leave forever. The contrast is powerful and the languages is quiet and simple which is where it gets its power.
There are a few stories that focus on violence. Smash and Grab is somewhat comic, a burglar taken out by a teenage girl and a toil tank cover. Her matter-of-fact violence and competency hide deeper emotions, her conflict less with the thief than with her father. Grand Old Party is the story of a couple who love each other, but have forgotten to remind each other of that fact. She’s cheating, he’s going to do something about that, something with a gun. It seems he should have thought this out a bit more, first. Our Lady of the Roses tells the story of a elementary school art teacher at a Catholic school and the nun who seems to disapprove of her quite a bit, but really, it’s a story of a woman accommodating, settling, and perhaps, we don’t know for sure, but perhaps, escaping. In The King of Dauphin Island, a recent widower, the sixth richest man in Alabama, pursues a dream until his daughters decide he must be a few bubbles off plumb. Love and grief combine to give no right answer.
The final story is Landfall. There is high drama thanks to Hurricane Raphael heading right their way. Muriel is filling the tubs with water in anticipation of the power being lost and drinking water possibly contaminated by flooding. She slips, hits her head, and drifts in and out of consciousness, imagining her husband Angus still living, her children still young enough to all crawl in with her when they are scared in the night. Meanwhile, her oldest son Angus (Jr) is risking his own life in the midst of the hurricane, trying to save a big ship they are building. Her daughter, Doodle, is sitting anxiously in the hallway while the doctors struggle to save Muriel’s life from the severe concussion and her youngest son, Percy, risks drowning trying to get to the hospital from the distant hunting cabin her husband built years ago. And that’s not to mention her grandchildren. There is so much love in this story, love and exasperation, which go together like eggs and bacon. I love the completeness of the story, down to the dog sniffing in the wind to find his way home.
I picture Michael Knight writing Eveningland several years back, and then spending the next two or three years cutting out half the words. The language is that spare and that elegant. There is such simplicity. Even in the midst of real peril, there is nothing melodramatic. Downright silly things happen, a man with a gun contemplating blowing his brains out during a hurricane, interrupted by a guy covered in mud. But Knight does not have him threaten the man – not even though in that same story, the young man’s father is shaken to his core by nearly killing a neighbor boy who wandered into his house. Knight saw no need to make a direct parallel, his route is simpler, more likely, and feel more true. Again and again, Knight choose anti-drama, the more real choice, the bolder choice. I really loved Eveningland and recommend it to all short story lovers.
Eveningland will be released March 7th. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley.