"Bonnie ZoBell's linked novella and story collection, What Happened Here, made me feel as if I'd lived all my life in San Diego's North Park, whose inhabitants live and work in the long shadow of the 1978 airline crash that decimated the neighborhood. What is most extraordinary is the ease with which ZoBell at once accumulates the layers of a novelistic narrative and offers us beautifully written, compact stories with lives of their own. Like Krzysztof Kieślowski's Red or Haruki Murakami's After the Quake, ZoBell allows us a complete picture only through a nimble narrative triangulation between the many characters and stories. The hard-fought and bounded truth we see here is, I think, the truest kind of truth." -Jerry Gabriel, author of Drowned Boy, winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction
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A plane falls from the sky. Lives are lost. Homes burned. A neighborhood forever changed. This is the setting – in and around North Park, California, a section of San Diego – of Bonnie ZoBell’s fabulous debut story collection, What Happened Here. In this linked collection, the people in the neighborhood show up in different situations throughout. We begin with the title piece, a novella. Lenora and John are in love, making a happy life together. John suffers from a depression that becomes more problematic over time. He sinks deeper and deeper down. It’s as if he’s haunted by his own existence, much as the very ground he and Lenora live on is haunted by ghosts of those who died decades before. A neighbor, who suffers as John does, is irritating and helpful by turns. Finally, John is able to let go of his painful, demanding demons. The setting in each piece is always very evocative. A young man swims with dolphins in the blue waters of Southern California. A married couple has a fight as they drive through the desert of Mexico, where they encounter a creature of both legend and myth. An elderly Hispanic woman finds love at last and neglects her lawn, letting it brown to its natural state. A man sells oxygen and crystals to promote health and healing. And in the skies above the neighborhood, where the souls of those lost in the decades-old air disaster drift uneasily, wild Macaws fly, adding color, life, and exuberance. All these people, and the free-wheeling birds, cross paths in a lovely tapestry of pain, joy, life, and death. A lovely book full of powerful forces, both seen and unseen. Highly recommended.