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Book description

During the late 1990s, I wanted to buy Ron Hansen’s 1989 short story collection Nebraska. Hansen and I grew up in the Midwest, albeit several hundred miles apart, but I was curious as to what he had to say about his native state of Nebraska. This was before the Internet and amazon.com, and I couldn’t find the book at new or used bookstores after several months of searching. I recently came across his 2012 collection, She Loves Me Not: New and Selected Stories, and was pleased to discover that it contained seven stories from that earlier book of stories. Hansen’s short stories span from the late 19th century to well into the 20th century. Among the stories taking place in the 1800s were “Wilde in Omaha” about the visit of British playwright and wit Oscar Wilde to Nebraska in 1882 and “Wickedness,” a horrific (but I think accurate) account of the blizzard that hit the state and killed many of its inhabitants in 1882. On the other hand, “Playland” is a spooky story about a fictional amusement park, at an undisclosed location in the United States, with a swimming pool one mile long, half a mile wide, and 36 feet deep at its center. The three main characters visiting the park right after World War II are as mysterious and sinister as their surroundings. “The Killers” seems to be an homage to the Hemingway short story of the same name. I especially liked “The Sparrow” about a 12-year-old Nebraska boy trying to cope with the death of his mother in a flying accident and pondering in the inchoate way of a child the question of why good people suffer. A priest he visits cannot offer an answer to this question. The short final scene in an overheated second-story classroom at a Catholic elementary school with the sparrow of the book’s title is riveting. The enigmatic final paragraph gives the reader something to ponder. I am impressed by the variety of people from a variety of occupations from a variety of times in these stories. The stories give the reader a good feel for the Midwest and its inhabitants. Not every story is a winner, but several are exceptional.

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