Critique: Original, eloquent, erudite, entertaining, memorably thoughtful and thought-provoking, “Fire in the Field and Other Stories” showcases author John Young’s impressive mastery of the short story format. While especially and unreservedly recommended for community, college and university library Contemporary American Short Story collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “Fire in the Field and Other Stories” is also readily available in a digital book format (Kindle, $7.99).
Synopsis: In the sixteen seemingly simple stories comprising “Fire in the Field and Other Stories”, author John Young’s memorable characters ask (or refuse to ask) what shapes us. Education? Talent? Impulse? Family? Money? Need for approval? Most of the stories are set in small-town Indiana, with a handful coming from New England villages. All are sensitively written, careful, and real.
The impulse to cheat (embellish) shows up early in the collection, as an antique dealer teaches himself to craft high-quality fakes. It reaches a fever pitch and crashes in the next tale, when an ambitious minister in an affluent community pays more attention to his neighbor’s wife and pumpkins than to the living he’s inherited.
Young’s protagonists range from observant nine-year-olds to hyper-competitive teens, from working class dreamers (and drinkers) to privileged executives defending the compromises they’ve made. A few face public humiliation; a few others die. In two of the strongest stories, young women face painful life-and-death decisions, and the conclusions are uncertain. In most, there’s an ethical dilemma, skillfully and subtly plotted so that we readers come away energized, appreciating “the oxymorons of life”.
Editorial Note: John Young earned an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College. His first novel, “When the Coin Is in the Air”, was published in 2019.