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Kirkus ReviewsAs part of the Minnesota Voices Project, newcomer Klassen offers 15 stories varying in quality, originality, and polish—all set in small-town and farmland Minnesota.
A standard-issue gothic comedy gets things started ("Summer of '36") when an obese and irascible grandfather dies in bed and has to be taken out the window in a sling because his coffin is too big to fit through the door. Klassen has an inclination to put familiar figures through familiar paces—as in "You See What's In Front of You," about a retarded man who gets teased—to death. Yet even as you hear the gears of a story grinding, Klassen simultaneously delivers wonderful observations of the countryside, including in this case a boy's view from a bell tower. Klassen's stories can decline into anecdote (the single-note girl-hopes-to-impress-boy "First Impressions") and cliché (a five-year-old, in "Juletta and Josef," being taken for medical care through a blizzard). Again, however, the qualifications are what count: Even in his weakest stories, Klassen's eye for the details of plains life seldom fails him. A 1950s tale about Catholic kids with bad teeth who go to a Protestant dentist ("Mrs. Cabot and Mrs. Abernathy") is alive and vivid with things to see and hear, as are stories like "Taking Stock" (a farmboy's first trip to the city) and the even more subtle—and outright moving—"Rimpel-Zimpel" (hired hands falling in love). When he hits his stride, Klassen can make even high melodrama moving (as when a four-year-old tries to wake his mother in her coffin—"There Is a Name For This"); and something close to pure beauty is sustained in the economic telling of life and death ("I Will Fall Into Barley") that closes the volume.
Hits and misses, then, though all touched at least somewhere with the genuine breath of life.