Ghosts of Wyoming by Alyson Hagy/Beth Kephart Review

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I don't have a photograph of Wyoming, for I've never been there. I don't have a picture of my friend Alyson Hagy, either, though she was here one evening for a Christmas-time meal, and I have in my head the rigor and intelligence of her stories; I have in my mind's eye an image of her studying the books on my shelves; I remember that I had a terrible migraine before she arrived and her presence cured me of it like a pill.

I write of Alyson Hagy on this blog—of her talents as a teacher and leader within the University of Wyoming, of her talent for friendship, too. But today I am writing to herald Alyson's sixth book, a collection of eight wildly specific and original short stories called Ghosts of Wyoming. I'm heralding her relentless drive to present the Wyoming she knows—its tricksters, equivocaters, promoters, miscreants, and scamps; its legends and tall tales; its bird-afflicted weather; its eye-grazing, heart-bruising beauty.

The stories here take many forms and live inside several eras. Bad is not always bad and good is not what it seems. A boy steals a pup. A man goes missing. A girl does wicked thievery with bones. A reverend out in the wilderness can't decide what should be trusted. A woman on the edge of hysteria decries the loss of a moth. Men talk—trainmen and oilmen, a near-scholar. Women love hard and return as ghosts. The sky is made of howl and chirp and "the lusty flute song of larks," and "ravens...gliding with the confidence of the undiminished and unfed."

"You know why people come here, Livvy," one character observes. "They like how the mountains look. They like the wild creatures they see, the fantasy that we can change our lives." I don't know for sure how long Alyson, raised on a farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has been making Laramie, Wyoming, her home. But anyone reading Ghosts, due out from Graywolf Press in February, will recognize, on every page, a woman and a writer who knows where stories lie and how to tell them. They'll find a woman gifted with a preponderance of odd and unfamiliar phrases, with metaphors that wild your mind and make a foreign place familiar.

I am blessed by many things in this life. One of those things is Alyson Hagy.


Laurie Schneider said...

Wyoming is an extraordinary place, even though my son says it is "too lonely" there. I will look for these stories.

[To respond to your question...I'm sure you will know lots of people at NCTE! But still.. I do believe Crag will be at the cocktail party and I will tell him to look for you. If they do name tags, his will say Crag Hill from Washington State University.]

septembermom said...

Your review is full of heart and appreciation. I will definitely check out these stories. I would love to see Wyoming some day. I hear that it is majestic.

Sherry said...

Thanks for posting about Alyson's book, Beth. I will look for it. Laurie Schneider, you live where I do! We need to meet before we move away. (Beth, WSU is 10 miles from me.) Love this small world we live in.
Photo: 5 stars!

J R Horton said...

Only strangers to Wyoming are trusted to write about the place.

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