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Eveningland by Michael Knight

Published by Atlantic Monthly Press on March 7, 2017

Eveningland is an excellent collection of related stories, loosely linked by location (Mobile County, Alabama) and time frame. They are also linked by Michael Knight’s gentle humor, his keen power of observation, and his ability to encapsulate lives over the course of just a few pages. And nearly every story has a dog, cementing my belief that dogs always makes a story better.

“Water and Oil” tells the story of a teenage boy who spends his summer on his boat as a volunteer, looking for the remains of an oil spill. The boy takes an interest in an older teenage girl who treats him with the unthinking callousness that is common to attractive young females who reject younger boys. The story draws a nice parallel between life’s disappointments and oil spills, which eventually dissipate and leave the impression that all has returned to normal, when only time will reveal the hidden changes they cause.

“Smash and Grab” is an amusing story about a teenage girl who overpowers a burglar and spends the evening telling him about her teenage woes.

“Our Lady of the Roses” is about an art teacher at a Catholic school who has a crisis after she is told that her art lessons should have a more religious theme. The young woman may need a miracle to pull together the threads of her disordered life.

“Jubilee” is the snapshot of a marriage that has endured without fuss or drama. It’s kind of sweet to imagine that such marriages exist, even if the spouses are settled in their ways and don’t really listen to each other.

In “Grand Old Party,” a man with a shotgun confronts his cheating wife and her lover. The story has an absurdist appeal. Does love make people crazy, or is it crazy to fall in love?

“The King of Dauphin Island” tells of a wealthy man who buys every property on an island that is eroding away to nothingness. The man’s wife has died and the island might be a symbol of how he sees the rest of his life. But the daughters he loves think he’s gone off the deep end, and the man must decide how to remake himself. This is a touching story of grief and dignity and the importance of allowing the people we love to be themselves. The ending is beautifully ironic. This story is a gem.

“Landfall” is another story of a family in crisis as disasters come in bunches. A hurricane that receives a mention in “The King of Dauphin Island” takes center stage in “Landfall.” The story follows siblings who need to deal with the hurricane as well as their mother’s fall and her resulting brain injury. Flashbacks put the family in perspective, while sharp characterization is the story’s strength. The story captures: “The impossibility of living up to the past. The burden of trying. A last chance to measure up.”


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