Just where is “The Devil’s Territory?” Is it comprised of the biblical fire and brimstone hell? The landscape of complex and impossible tortures in a painting of Heironymous Bosch? Or is it possibly in a place we’re less likely to look or suspect – our everyday world and its inhabitants? From reading Kyle Minor’s story collection of that title, it seems that final option is as likely as the others.
(Below: The “hellscape” panel from Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights”)
This slim volume contains only six stories, two – including the title story – are somewhat longish, but still readable in a single sitting. I’ve already written about one, The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl Party, but here are some glimpses at the others that I hope might make you curious enough to try this collection yourself. ***minor spoilers may follow***
“A Day Meant to do Less”
This one deals with the hell of despair of dealing with an infirmed, demented aging parent. Reverend Jack Wenderoth usually leaves the care of his mother to his wife, but circumstances leave him to fend for himself with her. Little does he realize that, as he tries to cope with the psychological difficulty of preparing to bathe her, in her own addled mind she mistakes him for a murdering molester with whom she survived a childhood encounter. Chilling stuff.
“A Love Story”
This one relates the life a “sexually confused” man whose career path includes being a student at a bible college and later settling into a “traditional” marriage, only later encountering his former college roommate, leading to predictable marital distress.
“Goodbye Hills, Hello Night”
The most overtly violent of the stories begins with the line “Here’s the truth of it. I never killed no one,” and proceeds to document a spree of “rousting” by young men that results in a death. The matter-of-fact-ness of how the men react to the situation they’re now in may indicate they’ve spent some time in The Devil’s Territory too.
“The Navy Man”
The collection strays a little off the track with this modern nod to the famous Anton Chekhov story, “The Lady With the Pet Dog.” It’s not a bad story, but why would an author go there? Minor notes in a kind of subtitle that the story is “After Chekhov.” I wouldn’t complain, but the author himself invites the comparison, and even the most respectful reader is likely to think of a famous exchange between Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle in 1988… one almost wants to say, “I’ve read Anton Chekhov. Anton Chekhov is a favorite of mine…” etc., etc. 🙂
“In the Devil’s Territory”
The Last (and the title story) of the collection is the best, as far as I’m concerned. It stayed with me for a few days, and whenever a story does that, it earns high marks from me. And yet, I can’t say that I fully understood the story, which roughly follows the life of a woman who, when younger, heroically leads her fugitive family to freedom – out of East Berlin and from behind the Iron Curtain. For sheer narrative, this art of the story was well done and quite gripping.
Suddenly, though – *poof* – we’re in Florida in 1970. The reader knows he is still in the same story, but is not clued in immediately as to how this new narrative relates to the one that started the story. We are suddenly in the story of High School Student Wayne Adams. We leap again to 1978, with Wayne a young man, wishing to escape from behind the “iron curtain” of his own family’s type of life and plans for him. We leap again to 1986, and it is Wayne’s son who is a fifth grader with behavior problems – or at least is viewed as such by his teacher at a strictly religious school – a teacher famous for her heroic escape from East Berlin a quarter century ago… Alas, she has become a petty tyrant at the school and her struggles with and against Wayne’s son, Ronald, dominate the latter parts of the story.
“Measure my words,” she said, “I’ve lived under the Nazis and I’ve lived under the Communists in East Germany, and now I suffer a hundred indignities in the godless West, and I’m still proud to be an American, but not when I see your messy desk, your crayons and pencils and erasers I say in disarray, I say in a state of shame like you bring me, like you bring my classroom, your classmates. A state of shame like you bring yourself.” Is her tyranny a faint echo caused by her sufferings form years ago, or is the propensity for a tyrant-victim relationship a natural order of things that civilization settles into? One of several questions this story made me ponder..
Ronald’s situation with his teacher becomes intolerable and, as urged by his dad, he takes drastic measures to “ruin” her. The final leap the story makes is to the present (or “Now” – as the heading of the chapter states), and Ronald is not without guilt about sabotaging his former teacher’s position at the school. He even tells his wife about her and that “…she escaped from East Berlin, made her daring rescue, her hero’s journey three times across the River Spree, so that she could make her way to West Palm Beach, Florida and ruin the lives of fifth grade boys.” His attempts to track down his former teacher (“she must be in her late eighties, or even nineties by now”) do not come to fruition.
If you’re looking for something fresh and different, you might want to give this collection of stories a try.
Find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble: