Diane R. Wiener reviews Compassion, Michigan: The Ironwood Stories

cover of Compassion, Michigan by Raymond LuczakOne of the most prolific writers and editors of his generation, Raymond Luczak’s Compassion, Michigan is the latest collection of stories and it does not disappoint. As many people in the world today discuss the meanings, import, and relevance of intersectional identities and politics—and, especially as we consider the fact that experiences of marginalization and disenfranchisement can co-exist with privilege, in some cases—disability literature and the arts offer a broad range of readers and engages many and varied opportunities to address our individualized and collective ways forward. Luczak’s Compassion, Michigan: The Ironwood Stories is an understated tour de force, in these and other respects.

A tale may begin with a Carson McCullers-style injury, or even a Truman Capote-esque disappointment, and, by the story’s end, the protagonist’s queerness, disablement, and family dynamics have coalesced into learnings and transformation, inasmuch as their affective inner landscapes may have unraveled—at least at first.

A good story must of course sustain one’s attention; surely, if a story is too polemical, there is a risk of losing one’s audience. In these stories, as with his other work, Luczak engages astutely with an unwavering CripLit sensibility, throughout, while readers who are not necessarily interested in disability poetics (let alone attuned to them) are offered a nuanced and subtle education.

There are many lines among these stories’ inter-weavings that are as specific as they are unforgettable; these lines are often also full of surprises. Playfulness co-mingles with reserve and risk, as well, as if teasing elders are passing down cherished and complicated familial histories. Nearly everyone—even the outsiders, usually—gets the in-jokes, on the back porch, after dinner.

Raymond Luczak, author of Compassion, Michigan

These are stories crafted by a poet, to be sure. One of my favorite examples—full of realism and metaphor, simultaneously—is in “Yoopers”: “I feel as if my bangs will catch fire as I lean down and lift the sheet of pasties out of the oven” (69), says the narrator, young Molly, who tells the reader these thoughts in private, rather than via the ongoing dialogue with her grandmother in the kitchen. The character is relatable; we come to know her.

Read the full review on Wordgathering

Compassion, Michigan [HC]

SKU 978-1-61599-528-8
$31.95
The Ironwood Stories
In stock
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Encompassing some 130 years in Ironwood's history, Compassion, Michigan illuminates characters struggling to adapt to their circumstances starting in the present day, with its subsequent stories rolling back in time to when Ironwood was first founded. What does it mean to live in a small town--so laden with its glory day reminiscences--against the stark economic realities of today? Doesn't history matter anymore? Could we still have compassion for others who don't share our views?

A Deaf woman, born into a large, hearing family, looks back on her turbulent relationship with her younger, hearing sister. A gas station clerk reflects on Stella Draper, the woman who ran an ice cream parlor only to kill herself on her 33rd birthday. A devout mother has a crisis of faith when her son admits that their priest molested him. A bank teller, married to a soldier convicted of treason during the Korean War, gradually falls for a cafeteria worker. A young transgender man, with a knack for tailoring menswear, escapes his wealthy Detroit background for a chance to live truly as himself in Ironwood. When a handsome single man is attracted to her, a popular schoolteacher enters into a marriage of convenience only to wonder if she's made the right decision.

RAYMOND LUCZAK, a Yooper native, is the author and editor of 24 books, including Flannelwood. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"These are stories of extremely real women, mostly disappointed by life, living meagerly in a depleted town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Sound depressing? Not at all. Luczak has tracked their hopes, their repressed desires, and their ambitions with the elegance and precision of one of those silhouette artists who used to snip out perfect likenesses in black paper; people 'comforted by the familiarity of loneliness,' as he writes."ť --EDMUND WHITE, author of A Saint in Texas

Learn more at www.raymondluczak.com

From Modern History Press www.ModernHistoryPress.com

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