Small Marvels: Stories

Small Marvels: Stories

by Scott Russell Sanders
Small Marvels: Stories

Small Marvels: Stories

by Scott Russell Sanders


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In Limestone, Indiana, a city tucked away among forested hills, peculiar things happen, often in the vicinity of a jack-of-all-trades named Gordon Mills. Centaurs and nymphs shelter in a local cave, alligators lurk in the sewers, warm snow falls on the Fourth of July, cornstalks rise higher than chimneys, and the northern lights shine down on the municipal dump.

Gordon takes such events in stride and deals with them as part of his work on the city maintenance crew. He earns just enough to support a boisterous family, which includes his formidable wife Mabel, their four children, Mabel's parents, and his widowed mother—nine souls packed into an old house that falls apart as fast as Gordon can fix it.

Part folktale, part tall tale, part comic romance, Small Marvels revels in the wonders of everyday life. So, welcome to Limestone, Indiana. You won't find it on a map, but you may remember visiting the place in dreams, the rare, blissful ones in which puzzles are solved, kids flourish, hard work pays off, and love endures.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253061997
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 05/31/2022
Pages: 214
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Scott Russell Sanders is the author of more than 20 books of fiction, essays, and personal narrative, including Hunting for Hope, A Conservationist Manifesto, Dancing in Dreamtime, and Earth Works: Selected Essays. His most recent book is The Way of Imagination, a reflection on healing and renewal in a time of social and environmental upheaval. Based in Bloomington, Indiana, he is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Indiana University and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Read an Excerpt

Excerpt from Small Marvels by Scott Russell Sanders
(forthcoming from Indiana UniversityPress, June 2022)

Once, not long ago, there was a jack-of-all-trades named Gordon Mills who lived with his wife, their four children, and three grandparents in Limestone, Indiana, a city tucked away among forested hills and shadowy caves, a place so obscure that it rarely appears on maps. Their old house, which fell apart as fast as Gordon could fix it, was packed with souls from foundation to rafters. Gordon slept in the basement with his wife, a small but formidable woman named Mabel. They had surrendered their former bedroom to Mabel's parents, who were a bit doddery, while his mother, still spry, slept in a room Gordon had built over the garage. The two daughters, prone to squabbling, occupied separate bedrooms on the second floor, while the two sons, far enough apart in age to avoid fighting, shared bunk beds in the attic.

They weren't exactly poor, since they never went hungry, but they also never had any spare cash to put away for harder times. Each month Mabel's parents, Mamaw and Papaw Hawkins, received a tiny social security check, which they used to order surefire remedies for old age from ads in the back pages of magazines. Gordon's mother, Granny Mills, drew an even tinier pension from the owners of the quarry in which his father had been crushed by a tumbled limestone block. She spent much of her money on lottery tickets and trips to the French Lick Casino, without much luck. The older children worked odd jobs after school, but the few dollars they brought in went for clothes, music, books, and electronic gadgets. Mabel had her hands full running the household. That left Gordon to earn enough to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.

Still, they managed to scrape by on Gordon's wages from the city maintenance crew and the extra bucks he pulled in from odd jobs on weekends. Blessed with the constitution of an ox, he never called in sick, and never turned down overtime. He could do pretty much anything that needed doing, so long as it didn't involve using a phone or a computer. He could repair sidewalks, pave streets, cut up fallen trees, weld a broken chassis, wire a stoplight, and run every sort of machine. One week he might be tuning up snowplows for winter, and the next he might be digging up a broken sewer main, and the next he might be scrubbing graffiti from the water tower or replacing the roof on a bus shelter after a tornado. Whenever a job cropped up that nobody else could do, Gordon got the call, which is how he came to be known in local lore as the man who coaxed the crows from their roosts on the courthouse square and chased alligators out of the sewage lagoon and cleaned up after the rare beasts that lurked in one of the local caves.

Gordon had begun learning his many trades as an infant, when he played with wrenches, pliers, and hammers instead of stuffed animals. The tools weren't wooden toys, either, but real ones, placed in the crib by Gordon's father, who earned a living with his hands and figured he'd better prepare his son to do the same. Gordon's mother, uncertain how to treat the baby's diaper rash, followed her husband's advice by using lithium grease, which worked like a charm, although it made Gordon smell like an engine. He was her first child, and also, as it turned out, her last. She and her husband kept trying for another one, year after year, right up until the quarry accident put an end to their efforts, but they had no more luck in bed than she would have later on at the casino.

When his father died, Gordon quit school, lied about his age, joined the Navy, and spent his seven-year hitch in the Seabees building airstrips, barracks, and bunkers in the Persian Gulf, all the while sending paychecks to his mother. Then he returned home, his body intact but wounded in the depths of his heart where he rarely probed. When he applied for a job with the city maintenance crew, the supervisor sized him up with raised eyebrows, then challenged him to figure out what was wrong with a balky garbage truck that had stumped the mechanics. Gordon soon had it purring, and the supervisor hired him on the spot.

It so happened that Gordon's first job for the city was driving that garbage truck up and down the streets of Limestone before dawn in the dead of winter, while two teenage boys, recently expelled from high school, rode on the rear bumper and emptied trashcans into the hopper. Once the truck was loaded, Gordon dropped the boys at the service garage to warm up while he drove out to the landfill. He remembered the place from before it became the municipal dump, when it was a valley where he hunted for mushrooms in the shade of beeches in spring, ate pawpaws and blackberries in summer, gathered walnuts and hickory nuts in the fall, and tracked deer with his father in winter. Now the valley was buried under a heap of rubbish that rose higher than the surrounding hills.

When he reached the top of the garbage mound that first morning on the job, he noticed along the northern horizon a glow the bluish color of the flame on a gas stove. It was the wrong direction for sunrise. Besides, the rest of the sky was still as black as the inside of a cat. He stopped, tilted the hopper, and then pumped the brake as he eased forward, jostling the truck until it was empty. Meanwhile, the glow on the horizon turned violet and began to ripple like a windblown curtain. He watched until the rising sun buttered the sky.
Gordon had no theory about what might or might not shine down on a dump, or about anything else the world might serve up when he happened to be looking. He just kept his eyes peeled. During the rest of that winter, he often spied the northern glow from atop the mountain of trash, but never from anywhere else. The landfill crew only scoffed when he asked if they had noticed the blaze flickering at the edge of the world. So he told nobody else about his discovery until years later, after settling into marriage with Mabel, when he took a ride to the dump before dawn with their long-awaited firstborn, a tot named Jeanne, who clapped her hands in wonder at the dancing lights.

Table of Contents


What People are Saying About This

David Hoppe

Scott Russell Sanders has created a literature encompassing the natural world, our sense of place, and the ways in which we can build community that lasts. This collection of linked stories about an unwieldy, yet loving family in what might, at first glance, seem like the middle of nowhere is a tender addition to a generous body of work.

Philip Gulley

When I first heard Scott tell a story, I prayed the day would come he'd write a book of them, and here it is! In Small Marvels, eloquence, humor, and magic mingle together in a delicious blend. Limestone, Indiana, will no doubt take its place in the landscape of Hoosier legends.

James Alexander Thom

Scott Russell Sanders, being a wise man who agonizes over the sinking of our traditional virtues, uses his great storytelling skills to keep buoying them up. In Small Marvels, he reminds us of the values of honest work, unselfishness, and wholesome family devotion, not by preaching but by pulling us into warm, funny, whimsical stories about the poor but happy family of Gordon Mills, a homely jack-of-all-trades who can leave no good deed undone. Gordon is the worthiest poor-folks' hero I've seen since Wendell Berry's unforgettable Jayber Crow.

Barbara Mossberg

There is nothing small about this epic, large-hearted, greatly imagined book. Of all of his serious books on the fate of our earth, this may be Sanders's most honest of all, a brave look at the realities of a struggling life in a literal holy landscape. We need this poignant, deeply comical book to remind us what a good time we can have after all in this world, right at home, with each other, in the most basic and fantastic of ways.

Susan Neville

Scott Russell Sanders's Small Miracles is its own kind of miracle, a contemporary work of short fiction where the protagonist, Gordon Mills, quietly repairs the work of entropy with love and kindness, a ready set of a handyman's tools, and an unshakable faith in community. I love this character, his family, and the town of Limestone, Indiana, a place reminiscent of Wendell Berry's Port Williams, that they call home.  

Michael Martone

Like the stories of Jim Heynen or Wendell Berry, the missives found in Scott Russell Sanders's Small Marvels are finely finished finishes of bulletins and billet-doux that lap and layer 'place' into Place, creating a depth by means of gritty sanding and steel-wooled buffing on what was once the flat and dull surface of the world's old spoil. America's drama has always been between mobility and stability. These deadpan understated dispatches from the striations of Limestone are all about the staunch staying, and these tales sculpt, indeed, poetic stays against the entropic confusion found in all our hyperkinetic need for the getting up and the going.

Erin McGraw

This book is a marvel indeed—a charming, improbably generous portrait of the pleasures of small-town life and enduring values. Simultaneously funny, rueful, nostalgic, and wry, these stories embrace hope and endurance, finding the miraculous bound up in the mundane. As one character says, 'Earth was home to more marvels than he could take in.'

Carrie Newcomer

Scott Russell Sanders's newest book, Small Marvels, makes me feel better about the world. Each story from the lives of Gordon Mills and his family is a gift and the collection as a whole is a balm for the heart and spirit. In a time of uncertainty and division, Gordon (who is part mechanic, part everyday mystic) and his very human, always entertaining family, reminds us of all that is still right in the world and shines a light on what is luminous and extraordinary in an ordinary day. Scott Russell Sanders has a beautiful constellation of works, I have loved all I've encountered, and Small Marvels is truly another bright star.

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