Thursday, January 19, 2006

From My Bookshelf

Stories by Nathan Leslie
Hamilton Stone Editions, 2005

Everyone who knows me knows I don't particularly like to drive. Many people--ranging from friends and family to the guy who inspects my car each year--routinely tell me that given how infrequently I use the car the fact that I own one makes absolutely no financial sense. A few years ago I thought I'd write a short story about someone who either didn't like to or was simply afraid to drive. I started that story, but, as can happen, the piece soon turned into a story about something else; a story truly "about driving" eluded me.

So I wasn't quite sure how I'd react to Nathan Leslie's new collection, Drivers. In the end, I was a little surprised and quite delighted by this group of 23 stories, most of which have previously appeared in print and online magazines. (Leslie, the author of another story collection, A Cold Glass of Milk, is himself fiction editor for The Pedestal Magazine. He also teaches at Northern Virginia Community College in Sterling, Virginia.)

It's tough to assemble a story collection, and it can help if you have a theme connecting the components. Leslie definitely has that. The "drivers" of this book, while mainly residing in Middle Atlantic states (Leslie was born in Minneapolis but raised in Ellicott City, Maryland) illustrate a variety of compelling "driver" characters and situations. That's also an admirable achievement, because it's far easier to write not-very-variable variations on a theme than it is to create distinctive yet related stories.

In "Stuck on Woodrow Wilson," for example, a woman seethes behind the wheel while caught in accident-exacerbated traffic on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge leaving DC. In "Shape," a car salesman evinces a surprising sales approach as well as a deep--if conflicted--concern for his troubled sister, to whom he lends a car (with problematic results).

The main character in "The Hit and Run" is a driving instructor making money off parents' fears. He's a pretty disturbing instructor: he makes it to his class through ice and snow "at 65, skidding all over the road and blaring right through the stop lights, stop signs, and anything else in the way." He's also responsible (though apparently not particularly remorseful) for killing a mother and her daughter in a hit-and-run.

Some stories reflect a sheer love for and/or knowledge of cars. Again, I'm no expert even when it comes to my poor neglected Honda, but the references to Duryeas and Hillmans seem authentic to me.

Whether you like cars, or like short stories, or both, you're likely to enjoy Drivers. Find out more here.

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