Glenn Blake, “Return Fire”
Johns Hopkins University Press
2010, 112 pages, hardcover, $18.95
Glenn Blake’s second story collection Return Fire returns to the familiar territory of his debut story collection Drowned Moon, as the author reexamines the desperate and dispossessed characters that populate the harsh, mythic landscape of marsh lands and oil refineries in the area between the Old and Lost rivers in Southeast Texas. With poetic and rollicking prose, Blake’s Return Fire boldly carves out a piece of ignored literary landscape. The characters in these five tightly woven tales resemble the wind-swept and weather-beaten landscape, yet all of Blake’s character’s, no matter how broken, are still sympathetic because they are so aptly developed.
The title story “Return Fire,” grapples with the dual tragedy of a marriage broken by an act of random gunfire. The town quarterback and place kicker enjoy taking blind shots at the local wildlife on the opposite side of the river, the same side where the main character lives with his wife. The wife is killed, and the ensuing revenge by the main character plays out at a measured pace. This is a difficult story to write because it takes place entirely on the main character’s deck overlooking the river, relying on quiet movements and implied motions to carry the story forward instead of forced dramatic action. This allows Blake to interweave timely flashbacks to round out this very tragic and moving tale of revenge.
The “Old and the Lost,” tells the story of a man who drives cross-country to rescue his father from a nursing home after the region has been hit by a major hurricane. This is the standout story in the collection, not simply due to its timeliness, but because of the way Blake portrays distance between the characters. The nursing home, overcrowded and without power, is flooded. The patients are all stranded, awaiting rescue from loved ones. Blake takes the reader into those dark hallways as the main character blindly feels the patients, searching for his estranged father in the blacked out hallways, wondering if he will be able to recognize him. The ultimate tragedy of this tale reveals itself fully in broken dialogue between the main character and a stranger he thinks is his father; unable to see, the two men speak blindly to one another, each mistaking the other for father and son.
Glenn Blake’s tales may be regional in setting, but his writing style, marked by quiet action and silent pauses, ensnares the reader while painting a picture of his character’s desolate interior landscapes. A book with regional themes is successful if the author can take small regional truths and shape them into narratives accessible to an outsider, and that’s exactly what the stories in Glenn Blake’s Return Fire manage to do.