Night of the Living Rez

Tin House. Jul. 2022. 296p. ISBN 9781953534187. pap. $16.95. F
DEBUT At one point in Talty’s debut, his young characters discuss how many times they will watch the Sherman Alexie–penned film Smoke Signals in the upcoming school year. It’s a fitting reference point, as perhaps no work proves a closer touchstone for Talty’s short stories than Alexie’s story collection The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which served as inspiration for 1998’s Smoke Signals. Talty’s debut is likewise constructed as a series of interconnected stories centered around a single Indigenous character navigating the small pleasures and existential pangs of modern existence. Here, that’s Penobscot narrator David, the sketch of his life told in a collage of 12 stories, moving back and forth between childhood and adulthood and through a cast of memorable orbiting characters. What’s so impressive in this story collection—and ultimately what imbues the work with such poignancy—is Talty’s restraint, his refusal to opt for sensationalism over authenticity. There’s a graceful interplay between his stories here, with portraits of pronounced family tragedy bleeding beautifully into those of gentle childhood hijinks. Talty understands each life as a small mythology, a grand accumulation of minutiae, and brings depth and nuance to each of these stories. The result is a work that builds in power across its pages, its woven narrative tapestry becoming richer and more robust with each successive story.
VERDICT Talty’s debut story collection is a wonderfully understated work with sneaky emotional force, anchored by a memorable main character and the author’s keen understanding of childhoods that have been marked by instability.
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