L.E. Kimball’s SEASONAL ROADS takes readers into the hidden world of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Seasonal Roads

By Lisa Lenzo

Seasonal Roads: Stories

By L.E. Kimball

Wayne State University Press: April 1, 2016

256 pages, $18.99


Seasonal Roads is L.E. Kimball’s impressive new book of stories. The title refers to roads that are unplowed and therefore unpassable in winter. Kimball guides you down some of these roads in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – into cabins, forests, and rivers, and into the lives of three women.

I fell in love with these three female characters. In the opening scene, Aissa is steeling herself with alcohol in order to shoot her dead mother’s sick dog. Watching Aissa take aim is her daughter, Jane, ten years old and delicate-seeming but actually clear-eyed and tough. When Aissa’s first shot hits the dog, but misses its heart, Jane tells her mother, “Shoot her again, Mom.”

And then there is Norna, Aissa’s mother and Jane’s grandmother. She’s perhaps the most rugged of these women. Although Norna loves the kind couple who found her in a dump as a baby and brought her home, she is tied more closely to the sun, moon, earth, and rain, which served as her first parents when she lay abandoned on the ground.

This is Hemingway country, inhabited by women. Norna’s cabin is on the river Hemingway reinvents as the “the Big Two-hearted” in his fiction, but which Kimball and her characters call by its true name, The Little Two-hearted River. As the disparity in these names implies, Kimball’s women are as courageous and conflicted as Hemingway’s men. But the women’s bravery involves less braggadocio.

These women hunt, trap, and fish as skillfully as men. They cook trout and venison, rabbit and grouse. They sleep in wigwams and cabins and cheap motels. These women make love on air mattresses and hard beds … on sand, dirt, and rocks. And they challenge and bedevil the men in their lives. In “Deadfall,” Norna ties up Sam, her Indian lover, because she suspects he has a twin and they are taking turns with her. In the collection’s title story, while Aissa is gathering her courage to shoot her mother’s dog, she holds sips of beer in her mouth, hoping to rot her teeth and thereby aggravate her downstate, dentist husband.

Despite their strength and toughness, Kimball’s women are vulnerable. In the story “To Give Thanks,” 12-year-old Aissa is so upset by her mother’s attempts to turn her into a hunter that she vomits. In a separate scene, Norna feels so anguished and alone that she stifles her own howls with her fists. And in “The Things They Ate,” the darkest and most chilling of these tales, one of Kimball’s women is the fatal victim of a psychopath.

But not every story in this collection is stark or serious. There is also humor and absurdity. In “Spinner Falls,” as Aissa acts out her mild (yet no-less-sweet) revenge upon her deceitful husband, I felt the same wicked smile stretching my face as when I read Margaret Atwood’s stories of gender-based retribution.

These 14, inter-linked stories are arranged in non-linear fashion, shifting between past, present, and future, which the prescient Jane sees flashes of and calls “alternate realities” and “migrations.” Rather than coming off as new-age-y, Jane’s visions seem to fit with the ancient and mysterious power of Michigan’s northern wilderness.

By the time we reach the culminating story of Seasonal Roads – and I do suggest, despite their roaming nature, that you read these stories in order – Aissa has discovered that she is more similar than not to her brave daughter and her rugged mother, whom she strives to understand but never fully does. Like them, Aissa realizes it is here in the north, in the U. P., where she belongs. We leave this tale with Aissa and her red-haired lover fishing without end, hoping to land the monster brook trout they once saw up close and almost caught. This lovely story, and this inspired collection, reach a conclusion that is both satisfying and uplifting, with these two hopeful humans forever hip-deep in the fiercely-cold but life-giving waters of the Little Two-Hearted River.

Lisa Lenzo is the author of two award-winning collections of short fiction. Her latest book, Strange Love, was the recipient of a Michigan Notable Book Award for 2015. She lives in Saugatuck, Michigan. This review originally appeared in broadcast form on “Michigan Bookmark,” a segment on Stateside, a daily program about life in Michigan, produced by Michigan Public Radio.




My bookish bucket list: 10 literary longings

Today’s “Top Ten Tuesday” topic (wow, five t-words in a row!) for bloggers is to reveal your bookish bucket list. Thanks to Jamie at The Broke and the Bookish for the TTT idea and this particular topic, which was fun to think and write about while I’m home under the weather.

1. Visit the UK’s literary sites

I’m long overdue for my first visit to the UK. I need to make a pilgrimage to all the places I’ve read about that are so much a part of me (not just my reading history). Stratford-on-Avon, Gad’s Hill (Rochester), Oxford, Cambridge, Dorset, Hertfordshire, Watership Down :-), York, the Yorkshire Dales, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and, of course, Westminster Abbey; the list is nearly endless. I need to walk in the footsteps of the greats, writers and characters both.

2. Read the complete works of Charles Dickens.

I’ve read and loved a few of Dickens’ novels, but I’d really like to read them all, in chronological order, so I can observe his development from a comic picaresque writer to arguably the greatest social novelist ever. I need to read Bleak House, Little Dorrit, and Our Mutual Friend.

3. Read the works of the Russian masters.

I’m sadly lacking in my knowledge of the Russian classics. I want to read Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov (at the very least), and I am actually looking forward to reading the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Add Gogol (I loved the Penguin collection of stories and The Government Inspector), Turgenev, Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn, and the mighty Chekhov, and I’ve got quite an impressive reading list. I might need to make this a year-long project. 2015?

4. Read some of the notorious “difficult” books.

I’d like to be able to say I’ve read James Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (at least Swann’s Way, the first of the seven volumes). I’d also really like to be able to say I understood and enjoyed these, and other similar, books.

5. Organize a dinner party with my favorite writers (the living ones, of course).

I think it would be great to organize a long evening of good food, wine, and conversation with 12 writers who are also good conversationalists and good company. Off the top of my head, my guest list would likely include Margaret Atwood, Rilla Askew, T.C. Boyle, Bill Bryson, Nathan Englander, Ben Fountain, Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Munro, Ann Patchett, Ron Rash, Donna Tartt, and Tim Winton. Can you imagine? It would be even better than “My Dinner with Andre. (I know I’m forgetting several other writers I’d love to invite, but you get the drift.)

6. Visit Paris and have my own “Midnight in Paris” experience.

Like Owen Wilson’s character in “Midnight in Paris,” I’d love to explore literary Paris with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, and the other American expats as my guides. If they’ve unavailable to me, I’ll read some of the great French writers while I enjoy the City of Lights.

7. Visit several Australian cities with Aussie writers as my literary and cultural tour guides.

Let’s see, who would best represent each city? Peter Carey or Thomas Keneally in Sydney, Kate Grenville for the central and northern New South Wales coast, Peter Temple in Melbourne and the southeast Victorian coast, Hannah Kent in Adelaide, Tim Winton in Perth and the southwest coast down to his home town of Albany, and either Keneally or Midnight Oil drummer and writer Rob Hirst for the Outback.

8. Rent a quiet cottage by the sea and read the complete works of William Shakespeare.

While I’ve read about a dozen of Shakespeare’s plays, they are the usual suspects. I’d like to read all 37 of his plays, his two long narrative poems, and all of his sonnets. The question is where I should go for this amazing experience in the life of the mind. Should it be the coast of England to make it more authentic, the coast of Italy (where several plays are set), or just anywhere quiet enough to eliminate distractions so I can immerse myself in the works of the Bard? What do YOU suggest?

9. Write a novel.

Like most avid readers, I dream of being a writer, too. I’ve written journalism and non-fiction since my high school days, but fiction has never come naturally to me (unlike to my 17-year-old son, who has stories pouring out of him and who can already write fiction well). Now that I’ve lived over half a century, perhaps my novel’s long gestation period is over and it will come to me in a vision. Speak to me, O Muse, of the long-suffering reader who wished to be a writer.

10. Have my book blog become a profitable enterprise so I can make a living from my blogging and portrait photography hobbies.

Well, it’s a bucket list. It doesn’t have to be realistic. Sometimes dreams do come true.