What if We Were Somewhere Else Wendy J. Fox Santa Fe Writers Project November 1, 2021 ASIN: B08WQ6L1TG 167 pages HC: $15.95 order here
Back in 2016, a friend recommended that I read Wendy J. Fox’s debut short story collection, The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories. I did, and loved it, especially its lyricism, Western terrain, and female characters. I continued to follow Fox’s career, and in 2019, she graciously allowed me to interview her about her second novel, If the Ice Had Held. Her forthcoming book returns to the short story form, which I think is Fox’s natural habitat. To me, her lyrical moments enhance her novels but are the essence of her short stories.
What If We Were Somewhere Else is a linked collection of shot stories centered on characters who work at an unnamed corporate office in Denver, Colorado. Kate, the boss who is going through a divorce; Melissa, a young woman acclimating to city life after growing up on a rural commune; Sabine, an artist who lied to get the job; and several others. My favorite story, “Wish in the Other,” follows Laird, a young man in his twenties, travelling across Colorado and into Utah to pick up his childhood best friend who has become an addict. As Laird drives, he listens to reports of a wildfire burning the historic Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, a wildfire that was started by two boys throwing fireworks down a hill. “I could see how it had all gotten out of hand very quickly,” Laird thinks at the end of the story, “and I could have see how they should have sprinted for help, but it was hard for me to believe the boys actually wanted the forest to burn, if they had known what it meant.”
All of the stories except one take place solely on earth. In a science fictional story, coworkers, formerly boyfriend and girlfriend, are reunited and forced into a moon mission by the US government. Although the dreariness and claustrophobia of moon life mimics corporate life, I wasn’t sure on my first read whether I’d prefer the book without this section among all the other realism. On my section read, I warmed up to it, not for the setting necessarily, but because I liked to see the two characters reunited, to know they had a future together and what that future entailed.
What I like best in the collection are the lyrical moments; I think these are both Fox’s trademark and what elevates these stories to the level of art. Michael, a young man in his twenties, and his young sister, Leah, doing yoga together; that same Michael as a young boy handing his mother’s boyfriend a glass of water through a chain lock but not letting him inside; Melissa digging an outhouse hole by hand; Kate and her husband sitting on the porch drinking wine and watching their neighbor. To me, moments like these not only make up life but are life, and I love to read them described not sentimentally, not cynically, but as they are, brief and beautiful and full of meaning, a necessary part of the plot but also their own poetic space. Fox writes about the apathies and odd loyalties of corporate life really well, but I personally return to her work again and again for her signature, balanced lyricism.
Rachel King’s novel People Along the Sand will be available in November. Her short stories have appeared in One Story, North American Review, Green Mountains Review, Northwest Review, and elsewhere.