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November Storm (Iowa Short Fiction Award) by…
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November Storm (Iowa Short Fiction Award)

by Robert Oldshue

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If you are a fan of the short fiction of Alice Munro or the late Frederick Busch, then it gives me great pleasure to introduce you to Robert Oldshue. I know, I know. You'll probably say, Who? But yeah, this sixty-ish physician seems to have suddenly appeared on the literary scene with THOSE kind of writing chops, with the kind of storytelling skills that will have you chuckling in recognition one moment and sucking in your breath in sympathy or sorrow the next, and sometimes on the same page. And he comes at you with these skills from the first page of the title story, about an eighty-ish couple who, however much they might grouse or carp at each other - sometimes in the comical manner of Earl and Opal of the "Pickles" comic strip - are obviously completely devoted - connected. Side by side you'll get the comical idiosyncrasies of long-married people, as well as the sadness of their unspoken awareness that they are nearing the end of things.

The stories in Oldshue's NOVEMBER STORM are simply so good that it's hard to believe this is his first book. There is not a bad one in the bunch. The book supports my personal theory that there is no teacher like personal experience - and age. Because I don't think a young, newly-minted MFA could ever write stories this real, this personal, stories that cut right to the heart.

There is a wide variety of subject matter here too. One story, "The Receiving Line," deals grittily with the gay subculture in the days before AIDS had a name. Another portrays mental health professionals and the challenges they face daily ("Mass Mental"). Another is told from the viewpoint of a young girl who unwillingly makes her great-uncle Lev, a Holocaust survivor, the subject of her bat mitzvah project ("The Woman on the Road"), and learns some unexpected lessons. The last story, "The Home of the Holy Assumption," set in a nursing home, is a hilarious send-up of such institutions, combining sympathy, irony and a touch of social criticism.

The University of Iowa Press has a winner in this book, and they are so lucky to have landed Robert Oldshue to add to their stable of writers. NOVEMBER STORM has been honored with The Iowa Short Fiction Award. Well deserved. Bravo, Dr. Oldshue. I loved your stories. My highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Sep 13, 2016 |
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"In each of the stories in Robert Oldshue's debut collection, the characters want to be decent but find that hard to define. In the first story, an elderly couple is told that delivery of their Thanksgiving dinner has been canceled due to an impending blizzard. Unwilling to have guests but nothing to serve them, they make a run to the grocery, hoping to get there and back before the snow, but crash their car into the last of their neighbors. In "The Receiving Line," a male prostitute tricks a closeted suburban schoolteacher only to learn that the trick is on him. "The Field Of Machpelah" features a twenty-something, premed dropout who is guarding a cemetery when a man asks to see his wife's prepaid plot before the hospital disconnects her life support. In "Home Depot," a family uses their foul-mouthed love to survive the birth of a malformed child. A psychiatrist confronts his fear of the past to help a patient in the present in "Mass Mental." In "The Woman On The Road," a twelve-year-old girl negotiates the competing demands of her faith and her family as she is bat mitzvahed in the feminist ferment of the 1980s. The lessons she learns are the lessons learned by a ten-year-old boy in "Fergus B. Fergus," after which, in "Summer Friend," two women and one man renegotiate their sixty-year intimacy when sadly, but inevitably, one of them gets ill. "The Home Of The Holy Assumption" offers a benediction. A quadriplegic goes missing at a nursing home. Was she assumed? In the process of finding out, all are reminded that caring for others, however imperfectly--even laughably--is the only shot at assumption we have. In upstate New York, a November storm is one that comes early in the season. If it catches people off-guard, it can change them in the ways Oldshue's characters are changed by different but equally surprising storms"--… (more)

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