I read this one because Claire Vaye Watkins won the Dylan Thomas Prize, which is based (like the literary hero it is named for was) in Swansea. She got a bit of publicity and I thought the book sounded interesting.
It is a collection of 10 short stories set (mostly) in Nevada. The main themes which link them together, apart from the sense of place, are loss, grief, unfulfilment and self-identity. And if that sounds like a depressing read, well to be honest it is. In brief the ‘plots’ (not that a lot happens in any of them) are:
1. Ghosts, Cowboys- the daughter of Charles Manson’s ‘procurer of young girls’ recounts some of her family history and current life.
2. The Last Thing We Need- made up of the unanswered letters of Thomas Gray telling Duane Moser, whose address he finds on pill bottles amongst a pile of stuff at the roadside, about his life
3. Rondine Al Nido- a woman tells her new boyfriend about the time when, aged 15, her and a friend go to Vegas to get drunk and meet older men.
4. The Past Perfect, The Past Continuous, The Simple Past- set on a ‘ranch’ (aka modern brothel) in the Nevada desert where a young Italian who has lost his friend, missing presumed dead on a hike, makes repeat visits and falls in love with a prostitute
5. Wish You Were Here- narrated by a woman whose husband becomes cold and demanding once she becomes pregnant and hankers after her former life
6. Man-O-War- a lonely, divorced gem miner finds a young girl left for dead in the desert and has her to stay for a few days
7. The Archivist- following a break-up, a woman imagines her life with her ex as if it was presented like an exhibition in a museum
8. The Diggings- two brothers head out West to the California gold rush and try to find their fortune
9. Virginia City- three friends go out to Virginia City to find out where one’s straight-laced parents actually eloped and got married
10. Graceland- a woman muses on the state of the planet while dealing with her mother’s suicide
Yep… a jolly bunch of stories. They are all really well written, with cool, detached, sharp prose, but reading them one after another over the course of a few days like I have done is not a fun experience.