Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘Little Raw Souls’
‘Little Raw Souls’
Autumn House Press, 2013
In his latest short story collection, Steven Schwartz, a Colorado State University creative writing teacher, goes inside the heads of his characters and deftly follows them as they walk various moral tightropes.
Among his subjects in the closely observed stories in “Little Raw Souls” are a woman robbed while flirting in an airport bar while her flight is delayed, a man duped by hippies staying on his property, and a teacher facing a mental breakdown. They’re set in the contemporary American west, shedding light on some little-explored corners of Colorado and the region.
Schwartz’s style is smooth and unfussy, with clear and straightforward prose that leaves a lot below the surface and trusts the reader to find it. In patiently paced stories, Schwartz builds suspense and character simultaneously without sacrificing either.
Among the standout stories is “Galisteo Street,” which opens with Ben, a writer — there are a handful or writers and teachers among Schwartz’s cast of characters — learning he has become a grandfather. The baby’s mother is Ben’s estranged daughter, the product of a short-lived relationship with an erratic woman who herself was the daughter of a famous novelist. Ben used their relationship as fodder for a memoir, which was panned by critics and ended his writing career along with his father-daughter relationship.
Schwartz fills in that backstory as Ben sets out to meet his new grandchild in Santa Fe, N.M., steadily raising the stakes for the reader. He runs into an old writing student of his in Santa Fe and flashes back on his many missteps as a writer, husband, father and friend. The result is a novel’s-worth of nuanced characterization packed into Ben and into “Galisteo Street.”
There is a lot of action in the relationships in this story, but, as in most of the tales in “Little Raw Souls,” it’s matched by a rare emotional complexity.
“Little Raw Souls” is nominated for the 2013 Colorado Book Award for literary fiction. The award ceremony is in Aspen on June 13.
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