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North Fork : Stories 2014 - 2022


Short Story Fiction


November 28, 2022


The Ozarks


Matt McGowan

As with his first novel, 1971, published by Auxarczen Press in 2021, place emerges as a principal theme in North Fork, a new collection of short stories by author Matt McGowan. Written between 2014 and 2022, many of these stories occur in the Ozarks, where you can smell the soil in August and hear cicadas as late as October.
The humidity soars, but the rivers have no water. Except a handful in southern Missouri, where the aquifers have not yet been drained. The North Fork of the White is one, a spring-fed river in south-central Missouri and the setting for “North Fork,” the first story in the eponymously titled collection. Other stories, including a teenager’s unwitting accessory to bank robbery and real-life zombies lurking in the woods, occur at the edge of the Ozarks, in and around Joplin. “Along the Frog” takes place along Frog Bayou in the Boston Mountains, and “Ace is Wild” at a federal psychiatric prison in Springfield. A few stories are set outside the Ozarks, where people still do crazy things. In “Classic Rock,” a cocky ex-football player rides eight-foot waves on the Colorado River. In “Artie and the Russians,” poor Artie, who barely knows how to dress himself, fails miserably at a new career but succeeds wildly at gaining a bride.
There are men who won’t stop driving (“Texas Jug” and “Long Walk to Gallup”), women who talk to ghosts (“Seven Doors”), and wrestling brothers who kick the front seat (“Presidents’ Day). There are morel hunters (“The Hawk”), baseball players (“A Cross for Wy Moss”), political dissidents (“Years Later, More Information about Which Way the Wind Blows”), incarcerated falconers (“Fly Away”), and avalanche victims (“South of Truckee”). One guy gets a finger cut off. Another man, riddled with guilt many years after an accident he caused, tries to make up for it by swimming the length of a
lake – whatever the consequences. A charismatic drug dealer is gunned down on the steps of a courthouse. A baby is born in a car. They’re all in here, all these characters, some valiantly trying to make sense of the world, others hapless or pathetically oblivious to it.

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