Skip Horack’s “The Southern Cross”

9780547232782Just yesterday I returned from The Sewanee Writers’ Conference. It was an incredible 12 days, and I met an astonishing number of phenomenal writers. I am going to try to scroll through their books, one at a time, but it’s an awful lot of reading — even if I weren’t starting the semester in three weeks.

Skip Horack’s collection, Southern Cross, seemed like a good place to start. This is a beautiful — and sometimes disturbing — collection of stories. It has its own voice; it doesn’t conform to any kind of structural requirements you might imagine for the short-story-collection format.

A lot of these are sharp, fascinating vignettes. “Bluebonnet Swamp,” “The Rapture,” and “Chores” are all short (less than a few pages). In these tiny bursts of micro-fiction, Horack does some of his best work. He takes a character — or a moment — and expands it out until it has resonance, and beauty, and the ‘big’ feeling of great fiction. And they’re often funny; Horack has a good sense of humor; he entertains his readers — especially at the beginning of the collection.

As the book continues, the work often takes a grim turn. One piece opens with a particularly grisly murder. But the artistry and elegance of these stories shines thorugh, despite their willingness to go to dark places.

My favorite story, “Visual of a Sparrow,” turns on a tiny, subtle moment — one that is infused with a detailed are careful knowledge of the natural world. That world — the world of swamps and birds and creatures of all kinds — comes through vividly throughout this stunning first collection.

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