The stories of Jared Yates Sexton's riveting debut collection An End to All Things (Atticus Books, 2012) are the stories of the new American economy, but they are not explicitly stories of financial hardship. An End To All Things tells the stories of the collapse of a way of life, a worldview, the American dream itself, and its impact on our essential selves and most fundamental relationships.
These are the kinds of short stories I love best - taut, tense, raw, exploring the darker corners of the human psyche. I'm reminded of Alan Heathcock and Bonnie Jo Campbell in the way they have the power to move, unsettle, and disturb, and Sexton's stories only get better the further into the collection you get. My favorites drew elegant and moving connections between outer events (a devastating storm, the BP oil spill) and inner lives, beautifully exemplified in the following gripping passage from "To The Thirsty I Will Give":
"Billy went on like that. His knuckles pounding, a few of them already shattered. The businessman went slack underneath, as loose as a puddle, but Billy couldn't stop. He checked out. Something inside him clicked and, somehow, in that gap of teeth, he could almost see those four men in shirts and ties from the TV standing in the dark. The hot breath of Louisiana beat down on their brows and begged sweat out of them.... And Billy felt himself out there in the water, out in the Gulf, the Atlantic... the waves lolling in and lifting him up and pushing him down... Something was spreading out there, spreading like a pool, and it leaked up and blinded him and swelled in his chest while he beat at what lay before him. There was only black then, crude and bad intentions, the welling up of the bowels of the earth."
If you weren't told these stories were informed by the recession and by the author's return to his Indiana hometown, hard hit by the downturn, you might not realize it at first, for while Sexton's characters are often in tight circumstances, their real crises are existential, spiritual, or as the author puts it, of "faith in general". Taken together, a larger picture emerges, one which well might prompt a shift in observation and understanding. The reordering of the world as we once knew it has left the subjects of these stories, and their real-life counterparts among us, adrift without bearings, without compasses, without familiar landmarks on which to safely anchor. As readers, we are helplessly witness to their peril and left, with them, on the horizon of something yet unknown.
Jared Yates Sexton's work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and The Million Writer's Award, and was a finalist for the New American Fiction Prize. He very kindly answered my questions about his stories and literary influences - you can read our conversation here.
An End to All Things by Jared Yates Sexton - Book Trailer from Jake Bottiglieri on Vimeo.