She Loves Me Not

By Ron Hansen

(Scribner, $25, 256 pages)

Who is this author?

You might not think of the stolid state of Nebraska as an author’s muse, but it surely has been that for Ron Hansen. The author of novels (eight) and story collections (three), Hansen is a graduate of Creighton University in Omaha, and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where he studied with John Irving. His stories frequently appear in literary magazines, and he is the Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., Professor in Arts and Humanities at Santa Clara University in northern California.

What is this book about?

The book contains 19 stories: a dozen are new and seven were chosen from his earlier, much-praised collection, “Nebraska.” The stories are wide-ranging: one features Oscar Wilde traveling in Omaha in the 1880s, while others are set in contemporary times. Another recreates an awesome Midwest blizzard. The title story is told by a prison inmate who recounts his bungled disposal of his stripper-girlfriend’s hapless mate. A teenager with a disabled boyfriend gets involved with her self-absorbed cousin; a son dismantling his dead parents’ apartment is thrown by what he learns from their neighbor. The book is a fine collection of vigorous new work and much-admired earlier pieces.

Why you’ll like it:

Hansen has been called “part Hemingway and part García Márquez . . . an all-American magic realist in other words, a fabulist in the native grain.” He is a master of the telling small detail and of vivid depiction, and this collection gives those unfamiliar with his work a generous sampling of his latest and greatest stories in one volume.

What others are saying:

Says Publishers Weekly: “Hansen …is best known for historical novels so well researched and faithful to recorded fact that they’re barely fiction at all—and at first glance the stories collected here stick to the formula. In “Wilde in Omaha,” Oscar drops choice rejoinders on his American tour; the Polish priest of “My Communist” flees the cold war for sunny Palo Alto; “The Governess” and “The Killers” are knowing take-offs on Henry James and Ernest Hemingway. But in this edition, which draws on Hansen’s 1988 collection Nebraska, we’re treated to the full range of the author’s Midwestern pathos, from the fast-talking gear heads of “Mechanics” and the shocking cattle mutilations in “True Romance” to the title story’s unattainable showgirl, who presides over a grisly murder. Then there are the really strange pieces, like the prose poem “Crazy” and the masterful, sweeping “Nebraska,” as poetic a portrait of place as you are likely to read. Hansen turns out to be at his best when he’s free from the tent poles of plot, precedent, or even character. He deserves a collection like this to give readers the full vent of the desolation that lurches out of his landscapes and blows like a cold wind into the lives of his hapless Americans.”

“Hansen offers an eclectic collection of short stories mostly relating to Nebraska. Some of the more historical pieces, such as “The Governess,” about a new nanny in a Victorian manor, and “The Killers,” about forties-era gangsters, are purposefully enigmatic and fragmentary. Other stories, however, such as “The Sparrow,” about the death of a mother in a tragic accident; and “My Communist,” about a Polish expatriate priest during the time of the Solidarity movement, encapsulate a whole world, referencing a larger dimension with astounding economy. “Red Letter Days,” for example, written in an epistolary style, conjures the life of a retired Nebraskan judge with breathtakingly straightforward subtlety. The title story reveals the bumbling of an inept killer, capping off the collection with tragicomic hilarity. VERDICT: This collection extends the boundaries of the short story form while remaining centered on Nebraska and the human experience; enthusiastically recommended for all readers,” says Library Journal.

“A diverse, well-written collection from a writer in complete control of his material. This collection of 19 stories could be roughly divided into two types: Midwest realism and noirish entertainments. The title story is in the latter category. Writing in prison with the help of his cellmate, “the Professor,” the narrator recounts all he did to win a stripper’s heart. “Red-Letter Days” is in the former category. Diary entries of a retired, Nebraska-based, frustratingly forgetful, golf-obsessed former attorney note golf outings, the deaths of friends and his wife’s declining health. … An excellent collection. Hansen can write,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

The Downtown Hartford Public Library has this book now.

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