In my continuing attempt to read things with some Nebraska connection, and also (mostly) in honor of Olsen's passing at the beginning of the year, I thought I would read something from her. It turns out that this is really her only completed book of fiction, so I suppose it's not unusual that this is the one I would settle on. Having read the book, in any case, there is one thing I can say for sure: Holy hell, this woman could write. I'm not sure I've ever read a more powerful collection of stories. She has an incredibly tight grip on the human psyche, and from the very first page she takes you exactly where she wants you to go. Not to say that the writing is manipulative. It's just so evocative and compelling. If you don't cry while reading this book, you're not human. When I finished the last (and most gripping) story, I was physically unable to rise from the chair.
In case you hadn't guessed, this isn't a real light, cheery book. This may give you some sense: I found myself thinking, throughout the book, that Olsen is the writer Annie Proulx wishes she could be. There are several significant differences between the two (not least that Olsen is simply a better writer), but the one that stands out for me most now that I've finished the book is that Olsen's writing—while every bit as depressing as Proulx's—has more to it. After reading Annie Proulx, you get this feeling that someone has just drug you to the ground and kicked the hell out of you for no good reason. With Olsen, on the other hand, it's more like you've spent time with an angel, or even a god, who has managed to illuminate for you some of the inner workings of the world and the human mind. There is a sadness which suffuses the book, but that's not its goal.
I'm not sure why I'm spending so much time comparing these two authors, in any case. But there you go.