Foreword Reviews

Desert Sonorous

Dislocation, family strife, and the desire to escape the familiar are the driving forces in these stories mostly set in an arid landscape.

In this prize-winning collection of stories, Sean Bernard explores themes of dislocation and emptiness in the heat-scorched region of the American Southwest. The characters in these stories, set mostly in and around Tucson, Arizona, often come from broken homes. They carry with them the sense that their struggle to gain connection and purpose will likely haunt them for the rest of their lives.

In “Pistoleros,” a story with distinctly autobiographical overtones, Bill returns to Tucson from Los Angeles to interview for a creative-writing position. Plunged into unhappy memories of his (now deceased) stepfather and his perpetually depressed sister, Bill tries to stay focused for an upcoming job interview and fears losing himself in the desert, “a flat beige surface upon which nerve endings sway.”

In this collection of stories, winner of the 2014 Juniper Prize for Fiction from the University of Massachusetts, the arid landscape is as much a character as the living, breathing people who inhabit it. Wanda, the protagonist of “Hike,” is involved with a man two decades older than her, and must reluctantly interact with her lover’s teenage daughter on a hike in a neighboring canyon. By the story’s end, she’s achieved a fragile rapport with “the girl” (as the daughter is called throughout) and decides “the world is wonderful in a way when you felt calm and nothing terrible could happen.”

Sean Bernard, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is an associate professor and director of the undergraduate creative-writing program at the University of La Verne in Southern California. He inhabits male and female characters with equal delicacy and sensitivity, as in “Anniversary,” where a high-school girl grapples with the terrible aftermath of the shootings of Gabby Giffords, a member of the US House of Representatives, and others in 2011.

Other stories in Desert Sonorous explore more unusual themes in more experimental formats, with mostly successful results. Bernard displays a sure hand at narrative and an impressive gift for portraying characters who seek to escape the confines of life as it’s lived in this corner of American desert.

Reviewed by Lee Polevoi

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The publisher of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the publisher for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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