200 pages | $15.95
Ancient artifacts, brimming with history, guilt, loss, and destruction, make their way onto the page in Erica Olsen’s collection of short stories, Recapture. These are no longer merely objects – a bowl, a blanket – but connections to a complicated past that have long since been left behind and forgotten.
Olsen ruminates on these vessels of memory throughout her stories and explores what roles they serve in the modern era. Do these artifacts belong in museums: meticulously cataloged and labeled in temperature and humidity controlled displays, separated from the visitors and stored behind protective glass?
Olsen considers our modern artifacts as well. Will our possessions one day be delivered to a similar fate when they are long separated from their original owners, and instead take their places as numbered objects in an audio guide or as anecdotes explained to bored school children by the museum docent? Her characters catalog ancient pottery sherds and desecrate burial sites; might our belongings garner the same level of attention?
Consider a photograph, capturing a moment in a now ended relationship: it can be used to ascertain so much information about the subjects, but only with the proper frame of reference. How are they standing – together or tilted away? Where are their hands – jaunty on their hips, holding one another, fiddling with a bag? Where are they looking – confidently at the camera, or lost somewhere out into the distance? Did they want to be photographed at all? To the subject, these minute details are not only telling, but their stories are remembered. To a future observer, the true story will be lost, perhaps instead generated as a new version to suit what the viewer needs to see. It will surely tell a story, but whose will it be?
The stories in Recapture tell of the American West, a place inhabited by the living and the ghosts. This is a sentiment that Olsen weaves through her tales. There is a longing for many of her characters, who are balancing on the precipice of broken relationships and lives that have escaped them. Loneliness pervades in locations where red rocks outnumber people. But in these moments of isolation, so much can be gleaned from these characters.
While many of her stories feel like familiar versions of the American West, Olsen has in “Grand Canyon II” and “Utah Wildmall Rangers” spun the stories in a fantastic new direction. Rather than the splendor and magnificence of the natural world, Olsen offers computer generated reproductions and “geological clones.” Again these stories touch on the motivation of the visitor: what is it that we are looking for when we look to the west?
This is an impressive collection of stories. While there are strong themes tying them together, they are equally impactful on their own. Olsen’s deft use of language creates stories that exude not only loneliness and longing, but also dark humor. It is often in her confused and misguided characters and their sometimes awkward entanglements with one another where her storytelling comes alive.
Jennifer Ray Morell is a freelance writer in New York City. She writes about music at The Ruckus (http://www.whatstheruckus.com/) and her adventures at That Long Yellow Line (http://thatlongyellowline.wordpress.com/). Check Twitter for her thoughts on TV shows, puppies, and cupcakes: https://twitter.com/heyjenray