The country ahead of us, the country behind : stories

by David Guterson

Hardcover, 1989

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York : Harper & Row, c1989.

Description

Like his novel, Snow Falling On Cedars, for which he received the PEN/Faulkner Award, Guterson's beautifully observed and emotionally piercing short stories are set largely in the Pacific Northwest. In these vast landscapes, hunting, fishing, and sports are the givens of men's lives. With prose that stings like the scent of gunpowder, this is a collection of power.

User reviews

LibraryThing member bezoar44
What an unhappy set of stories! The overall effect reminded me of Flannery O'Connor: beautiful writing, but nearly every family, every life is dysfunctional, dominated by regrets or human flaws. In most of these stories, men or boys struggle with feelings of loneliness or inadequacy, blocking them out until something sharp or final forces an inbreaking. The memory of confronting that despair typically haunts the narrator for the rest of their lives - the stories are often told years later, but the narrator has never really come to terms with the experience. It's an aesthetic choice - to reduce a life to a short episode, a turning point - that fits well with the short story form, but I think is deeply unfaithful to the way most of us actually live, and magnifies the temporary despair most of us feel at one time or another into a permanent cosmic truth. The stories are consistently well done, but it's a grim way to look at life.… (more)
LibraryThing member John
This is a collection of short stories, a number of them published in various magazines before, but collected here it seems for the first time, and no doubt to take advantage of Guterson's success with Snow Falling on Cedars. I don't usually read short stories, but these I enjoyed. They are mainly set in adolescent years, and I think Guterson captures very well that sense of cockiness and bravado that often overlays the insecurities and uncertainties of the adolescent world, as well as the confusing search for definition and place in family and relationships. I like Guterson's writing style (though some find it overwritten), his use of fresh metaphors, and his power of description. An example:

I grew up in Wilkes, Rhode Island, where the light in early winter seems to roll off the backs of the clouds and ignite along the waters of ponds and millstreams, and the cold rot smell of the barren forests comes ghostly out of the tough earth, and the gold air and sky have a muted volume of both space and spirit broken only by the reach of church spires soft-white and giant against the slow maple hills.

I also like the understated nature of Guterson's stories. Understated in the sense that he does not try to wrap the entire story up with a bow and have it entirely self-contained. Like the best short story writers, he leaves threads hanging that make the reader ponder the impact of events or emotions on the characters beyond the framework of the story itself.
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LibraryThing member thorold
Early short stories, reissued in the mid-90s to cash in on the deserved success of Snow falling on cedars. These all have rather a whiff of the creative writing workshop about them - probably inevitable in a period without a worthwhile commercial market for literary short stories.

Far too much American-style masculinity for my taste: the stories are almost all about killing things, hitting balls, or fantasizing about women. It's basically readin' 'bout how to hunt, fish, shoot, bang 'n wank, as someone elegantly put it in a talk thread today. Good if that's the sort of thing you enjoy reading about, but otherwise a bit of a turn-off for the reader. "American elm", about an encounter between a youth and an elderly farmer, is probably the only one I'd trouble to read again.… (more)
LibraryThing member seehuhn
A set of short stories about people, ranging from melancholic to very sad. Despite the not-so-happy atmosphere, I found these stories easy to read and I finished the whole book within one day. The stories flow calmly, nothing is over-dramatised, and I was impressed by the way believable characters are developed within the very few pages each story consists of. Thus, a recommended read if you don't mind sad stories.… (more)
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
This collection of short stories explores relationships – man and wife, boy and girl, father and son, brothers or friends.

I really liked a couple of the stories. Opening Day looks at three generations of men in one family as they go duck hunting on opening day. Narrated by the man who is both son (to Pop) and father (to Sean), it shows how certain wisdom is passed along through shared experiences. The reader also watches the men come to the realization that Pop’s days of hunting are over, that his age and deteriorating health make it impossible to continue. Nothing is said about it, but Pop shows with quiet dignity that he has decided this tradition they’ve shared is in the past.

The last story in the collection is also very good. The Flower Garden shines a light on first love, through the lens of hindsight. There is tenderness and confusion, miscommunication and soul-baring, and, of course, regrets. And American Elm deals with the decisions one man makes on how to live his last days.

I was decidedly uncomfortable with a couple of the stories - Piranhas, in particular, was very disturbing, giving a glimpse of a possible sociopath-in-the-making.

The biggest complaint I had about the stories, however, was the feeling I had that they were not complete. They seemed more like random chapters lifted from a larger work and I felt I was missing something. I have always liked the short story form, so it’s not that these were not novels that bothered me, is was that they seemed unfinished. And that is the reason for my lower rating.
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LibraryThing member juniperSun
Short story collection. Stupid. I gave up after reading a few.
LibraryThing member nancynova
from the convention; a collection of short stories. With the exception of the first one, which I strongly disliked, the rest are stories of men - hunting, sports, interesting and at time thought provoking. Mostly set in the Pacific Northwest, they range from a teenager's introspection up through an elderly man contemplating his life vs. his friends'.… (more)

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