Apparition & Late Fictions, By Thomas Lynch

Digging deep into home turf
Click to follow

What to do when the foundations of your faith begin to crack: faith in the church, in the family, or in the consoling combination of both that undergirds the small-town middle-American life of Thomas Lynch's fictions? Famously the long-serving undertaker in Milford, Michigan (and chronicler of his "dismal trade") as well as a poet of heft and grace, Lynch again digs deep into home turf for a volume that unites four stories and the titular novella. The natural world, source of Lynch's most joyously attentive writing, seldom lets his doubt-ridden seekers down. To the trout-fishing guide in "Catch and Release", letting the ashes of his clergyman father free into the autumn current, the river ranks as "his church and chapel and Bible and choir".

A stylist as bristlingly alert as a hunter-sniffing deer in the Michigan woods, Lynch creates characters who cherish the weight of words. Harold, observant coffin salesman, imagines "Adam in the garden, that first index finger working overtime" to name the world and gain not dominion over it but rather "consortium" with it. Still, it agitates these people that their lovely denominated world includes other bodies and the fierce desires they stir.

"Matinee de Septembre" is a startling gender-switched pastiche of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Aisling, pampered academic, falls obsessively in love with a teenage Jamaican waitress. At a grand hotel on Lake Huron, she becomes a smitten "acolyte to the incarnate beauty". The financial meltdown stands in for Mann's cholera outbreak.

In "Apparition", a smugly divorced ex-Methodist minister builds a second career as a post-split guru. He writes a self-help bestseller ("Good Riddance") and relishes cult status as "a maharishi to the formerly married". Facile satire yields to sympathy as we grasp how a jovial, cursing Catholic priest and a large-hearted babysitter conspired to awaken Adrian's new faith in the pleasures of the flesh. Yet even this born-again preacher of sexual healing will grasp, like readers of these poised and pointed tales, that "everything in nature disappears".