You know that song from The Music Man, “Wells Fargo Wagon”: “O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street/Oh please let it be for me!”?
I don’t bring this up because I know anything about musicals (although I know this one from high school), but because it illustrates pretty well the way I feel when I get a book in the mail that proudly declares itself “Uncorrected Proof.” There’s no way of knowing if it contains maple sugar, a cross-cut saw or a court summons, but there’s something about the additional words and numbers that are on the cover of an uncorrected proof, that makes it more exciting. It begs for the book to be judged. (Plus readers get the joy of finding grammatical errors and wondering if they’ll be caught on final edit.)
This one, Grind, is a collection of short stories by Mark Maynard, who teaches composition and creative writing at Truckee Meadows Community College. It includes stories about casinos, homeless winners, wild horses, prostitutes, air races, long-haul truck drivers—you know, the stuff that makes Northern Nevada great.
Grind is exactly what I like in a locally based book. Lots of stories about the gritty realism in and around Reno. Plenty of those characters who make a visit to the environs of Reno both an exciting potential and an illicit affair. In fact, the way urban and rural cultures collide here is an underpinning of this book. I don’t think Maynard is judging. I think the stories are more existential than that: “That’s just the way things are around he-ah.”
I found myself looking for things that cemented the stories into place here, things that couldn’t have been created about another locale and just had the names changed to reflect the place the author landed when he published his first collection. They’re here. This is a Northern Nevada book. Even some of the things I made mental notes to check into—for example, was Reno City Hall really a hotel at some point? I remember when the Cal-Neva had offices there, but a hotel?—required a certain knowledge of place. In fact, there were some businesses that had their names changed, and I had to wonder at these decisions. I mean, aren’t we Renoites kind of a built-in market for this book?
I always find myself looking for themes when I read books by local authors. It’s a way of trying to connect with the author. From this book’s assemblage of down and out personalities, I’m going to say that Maynard is making the statement: Off-the-wall people deserve sympathy, too. And I like this idea. Nearly all of my favorite authors have written from this point of view. Some, like Raymond Carver, made it their focus. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I see a definite Carver influence in some of this work; “Letdown,” a very short story about a mother who loses a baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome comes to mind, and the resemblance is not just theme or topic, although it is more about cadence and rhythm than stylistic choices.
I really liked this collection, and I’ve got to add it to my “local must reads” list. I don’t want to make too much of it, but I’ve really noticed an uptick in the quality of locally written fiction in the last year or two. As I look through 2012’s book reviews, I see four works of literature produced by Northern Nevadans (in some cases, former Northern Nevadans) that I think are worthy of note, and maybe even national awards.
Mark Maynard is one local author from whom I think we can expect to hear in the future.