All My Relations

All My Relations

Christopher McIlroy
Copyright Date: 1994
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    All My Relations
    Book Description:

    Set against the stark but seductive landscape of the American Southwest, the stories in All My Relations explore the inner landscape of mind and heart, where charting the simplest course is subject to a complex constellation of relationships. In the title story of the collection, a Pima Indian hires on with a rancher in an attempt to quit drinking and to win back the wife and son who have left him. His efforts to master land and horses and to bake the perfect cake mirror his efforts to subdue his own demons and to embrace a peaceful domesticity. In "The Big Bang and the Good House", Tony, a former drug dealer, pits his urge toward chaos against the orderly pleasures of marriage, finally yielding to the solidity and spaciousness of domestic love: "I feel myself gathering weight, density. Cautiously, I allow myself to inhabit this Good House, which surprisingly fits like my own body". Julia, the aging protagonist of "Simplifying", risks her fragile health in a love affair; her generosity of spirit toward her lover is matched in inverse proportion by the frugality with which her lover doles out his affections. In "The March of the Toys", a young woman flees Delaware, her chronically ill father, and her grieving mother, only to find that she's traded the neediness of her family for the harrowing disturbances of her lovers. She muses, "I couldn't affect anyone's life. I could only attend it". In "Hualapai Dread", an investment broker's infatuation with an enigmatic Hualapai Indian woman, as elusive as she is beautiful, brings out his most predatory instincts and unmasks her own deceit. Acting on similar but more destructive impulses toward the object of his sexual obsession, a character in another story takes his soon-to-be ex-wife on a bizarre "honeymoon for divorce". The close-knit family of "Builders" breaks under the strain of constructing their dream house with their own hands, and eventually they are forced to leave behind the illusion of safety and permanence: "Once the three had imagined themselves as a house on a hill, dug into stone with the tenacity of a lion. Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure". Embodying the transience and openness of the New West, the characters in All My Relations reinvent themselves, even as they struggle with the age-old, perilous necessity of loving.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4285-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xii])
  3. All My Relations
    (pp. 1-28)

    When Jack Oldenburg first spoke to him, Milton Enos leaned over his paper plate, scooping beans into his mouth as if he didn’t hear. Breaking through the murmur of O’odham conversation, the white man’s speech was sharp and harsh. But Oldenburg stood over him, waiting.

    Oldenburg had just lost his ranch hand, sick. If Milton reported to the Box-J sober in the morning, he could work for a couple of weeks until the cowboy returned or Oldenburg found a permanent hand.

    “O.K.,” Milton said, knowing he wouldn’t go. Earlier in the day his wife and son had left for California,...

  4. Simplifying
    (pp. 29-52)

    Easter morning Julia was dressed for church, watering her plants, when the air left her, as if her chest, while straining to expand, had flattened. From her knees she dialed 911.

    The oxygen mask was a fuzzy lump in her field of vision. White-jacketed EMT’s circled her. At Emergency her gurney flew down the corridor.

    Her son Tim stood over the bed, hair awry, shirttail untucked. He squeezed her hand.

    After visiting hours the busy noises ceased, replaced by the wheezing of therapeutic machinery, the bellows-like breaths of hospital maintenance systems, punctuated by rhythmic groans of a patient across the...

  5. Hualapai Dread
    (pp. 53-77)

    The Hualapai village of Alav lies at my back. The rocky path is steep. As I mount the ridge crest, a bicyclist is laboring toward me, up the other side. Though exertion makes holes of her eyes and mouth, she’s beautiful, black hair tossing, skin buttery with sweat. Her bare midriff is taut over skimpy purple shorts. In the town of Hualapais, not exactly fat but rounded, dressed in modest anonymity up to the neck, she’s a cover girl, a star. Her tires hiss. Pebbles crunch. She passes, and I look over my shoulder at her thinclad rear squunching on...

  6. The March of the Toys
    (pp. 78-105)

    Leah and I met at a refrigerator, a party thudding through the walls. She was flushed and perspiring. I wore a beige dress that screamed, if beige can scream, Don’t look at me! I’m not really here!

    I’d recently broken up with a man and was living ineptly, at cross-purposes. Why else attend a dance party, single, with no interest in a partner? I stand, I watch, I go home.

    There was only one beer in the fridge.

    “Go ahead,” said Leah—though I didn’t yet know her name. “I’ll stick with tequila.”

    It shocked me, minutes later, to see...

  7. From the Philippines
    (pp. 106-119)

    Deirdre’s Philippine snapshots were late. Every day they failed to arrive, Deirdre’s friend Curtis told her, she grew dizzier. Her gray eyes glittered. Her freckled complexion flushed pink. The soft waves of her auburn hair burst into a fiercely becoming curly frame around her head. She talked incessantly, though not about the Philippines, since by now everybody but Curtis refused to hear about it. She had spent a semester and summer there, as an exchange student.

    When the final bell rang, Deirdre edged down the ramp, books clamped to her chest, in a surge of 2,500 other high school students....

  8. In a Landscape Animals Shrink to Nothing
    (pp. 120-135)

    “Mouth gaping! Eyes bulging! Out of the water, burned, eaten up.” Boehm spread the foil and jabbed the crisp skin of the snapper with a fork. “That’s how I feel when I look at you.”

    Olivia, shucking corn, said nothing. Hunched, her small breasts in her bikini top drooping with a weight Boehm could almost feel in his palm, she ripped the fine blonde tassels that reminded Boehm of her own hair, and dropped them into a hole in the sand. Her concentration, teeth nibbling the curve of her underlip, made Boehm nervous. She would be thinking of her bare...

  9. The Big Bang and the Good House
    (pp. 136-155)

    The morning is thick enough to stir with a spoon. The tower of waffle is cold in a puddle of congealed syrup, sweet and good. My wife Annie’s nightgown is open to a beauty mark on her collarbone, which she taps distractedly with a pencil. Replying to her students’ journals occupies hours of her weekend.

    “Look here,” I say. “They think the universe might have arisen out of pure nothing.” From the newspaper I read:

    Even the void has mathematical structure. If that structure, that “nothing,” becomes unstable, through a random quantum event …

    “Presto,” I say. “Instant universe. The...

  10. Builders
    (pp. 156-190)

    The closest three weeks of the Terrys’ marriage had been spent vacationing in China, when their son Marco was an infant. Euphoric new parents, Dominic and Ella were traveling in a land whose strangeness was perpetually revelatory. Trivialities such as intestinal parasites and missed trains were powerless against each routine daily miracle.

    In search of an historic temple they had hiked a valley whose river bent through rolling hills, forested ridges intersecting plots of ochre, buff, and emerald. Terraces ascended distant purple mountains, hung with cloud. The trail ended abruptly; above them, cocked on a slope, the temple seemed ready...

  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 191-193)