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The Utah Canyons WildMall gives tourists exactly what they want. An archivist preserves a rare map of a vanished Lake Tahoe. The Grand Canyon can only be visited in replica form. These stories—lyrical, deadpan, surreal—blur the line between the natural world and the world we make.

Praise for Recapture:

A Library Journal Best Short Story Collection of the Year

“Unsentimental stories that tell us what the ...

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The Utah Canyons WildMall gives tourists exactly what they want. An archivist preserves a rare map of a vanished Lake Tahoe. The Grand Canyon can only be visited in replica form. These stories—lyrical, deadpan, surreal—blur the line between the natural world and the world we make.

Praise for Recapture:

A Library Journal Best Short Story Collection of the Year

“Unsentimental stories that tell us what the American West looks like now and what we’ve lost; the Grand Canyon, for instance, can be seen only in replica after environmental catastrophe.”
Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

"Recapture is a living, breathing museum of natural wonders. With writing as spare as the landscape she evokes, Olsen wades through the detritus of the human experience and finds clarity there, and some magic, too."

"True to its name, Recapture grasps after lost loves, fading histories, and shifting landscapes to bring us an expertly curated series of human exhibits in an expansive, outdoor museum."
Lindsey Griffin, the museum of americana literary review

"Erica Olsen gives us the dream life of the Southwest in this striking collection, a landscape told in language as spare and pungent and exacting as the desert itself. A swift and lovely debut from a writer of real gifts."
Kevin Canty, author of Where the Money Went

"These sly, heartbreaking stories capture the modern West, where the past is ever-present and the future is already here."
Alison Baker, author of How I Came West, and Why I Stayed

"Beneath their polished surfaces, Erica Olsen’s stories are subversive, sometimes darkly funny, and always disquieting. When you set off on a hike in her universe, be prepared for surprises. You may find yourself exploring Utah—or Norway—or a surreal faux wilderness where rainbows are regularly scheduled and gnats are outlawed. Also, prepare to be exhilarated. This accomplished writer really knows her way through the tricky zone between truth and falsehood where art is made."
Susan Lowell Humphreys, author of Ganado Red

"A sharp, wise new voice from the American West, Erica Olsen is the real thing. As wild as David Foster Wallace or George Saunders and as tender as James Salter or Alice Munro, Olsen’s stories are hilarious, painful, and achingly lovely."
Amanda Eyre Ward, author of Close Your Eyes

"Like all good narratives, Erica Olsen’s “Grand Canyon II” suggests great consequence. The past is another country. The task of memory is impossible. No one exists and nothing ever happened. But somewhere in your brain, a beautiful lie is being spun..."
Sarah Manguso, author of The Guardians

"Recapture is like a lost map of the backcountry, detailing the forgotten places where secrets shove up through the dust, pieces of lives demanding to be made whole. The territory is endlessly illuminating and constantly surprising, revealing a master storyteller at work."
Kim Todd, author of Tinkering with Eden: A Natural History of Exotic Species in America

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781937226053
  • Publisher: Torrey House Press
  • Publication date: 10/16/2012
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 4.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Erica Olsen lives in Dolores, Colorado near the Four Corners area, where she does archives and curation work for archaeology museums. Her stories and essays have appeared in ZYZZYVA, High Country News, High Desert Journal, and other magazines. A graduate of Stanford, Harvard, and the University of Montana MFA program, she has also been a Djerassi Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin.
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Read an Excerpt

Grand Canyon II

For a long time I wanted to go back to the Grand Canyon. Then came the dual catastrophe: an earthquake that left Grand Canyon Village in ruins, and a mining accident, the details of which have never been released to the public. So, it’s too late. No one knows how long the decontamination will take. A visitor center and replica canyon off Interstate 40 near Williams, Arizona, had long been proposed as a way to relieve stress on park resources; after the disaster, those plans were revived and Grand Canyon II was approved and constructed. The new park replicates the five-mile stretch that historically drew the most visitors, from Grand Canyon Village to Yaki Point, encompassing the main overlooks and the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trailheads. It is a geological clone made possible by the recent advances in rapid prototyping with which we have all become familiar. Using technology similar to that developed for bioprinting organs for transplant, Grand Canyon II was printed in 3D by depositing layers of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rock, from the inner gorge to the upper canyon, from Vishnu schist to the Kaibab formation. Grain by grain, the canyon was remade. In an office in Los Angeles, I worked on the editorial team, checking contours, textures, Munsell color specifications. I proofread the Coconino sandstone. The design files replicated native plants, the effects of erosion, marine fossils, even graffiti and the scars from mule shoes and trekking poles. Birds and animals find their own way in: flickers, hummingbirds, a thriving population of Abert’s squirrels, the omnipresent mule deer. After the first few hundred feet, depth is an illusion. The river is waterless. These compromises were found acceptable by most visitors.
My parents took me to the Grand Canyon, the original, in 1970, when I was five years old. It was the first and only time my Norwegian and Korean grandparents met. Years later, looking at that ritual of American astonishment (for my generation, Kodak is the color of the past itself), I can’t help but see the diminishment of our lives. The now curled and lonesome snapshot reveals something deceptive, essentially untrue, about the scene, the big promise at our backs. They didn’t travel. In me there must have been, already, the promise of unsuitable boyfriends. But for a long time I wanted to go back to the Grand Canyon, though it’s not clear to me if it was a dream, an obligation, or some less easily defined but no less pressing need. In any case, it’s the new park that I pay to enter. The crowds are busy with cameras and views. I fill my lungs with ponderosa-scented air. I brush away a fly.
Did you think for some reason I wouldn’t be taken in? Would you believe that being here pierces me like an artifact of my own memory? At the edge of this vast and unimaginable copy, I remember tent-shade and fire-warmth. I reach for absent hands.

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Table of Contents


Grand Canyon II 5
Adventure Highway 8
Everything Is Red 21
Driveaway 31
Reverse Archaeology 48
The Discovery of Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park 58
The Keepers 60
Bristlecone 64
The Curation of Silence 70
Going to Randsburg 88
Utah WildMall Rangers 103
Wonders of the World 110
Persuasion 119
A Dish of Stinging Nettles 129
Everywhen 134
Recapture 140
Acknowledgments 172

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