Bring Me Your Saddest Arizona, a moving short story collection by Ryan Harty, follows the lives of those on the outside of emotion. The protagonists of these stories observe passively as those around them implode or explode, while the protags register a reaction, remove themselves from the fray, self-protect, realign, contain the moment for posterity.
It is this passivity that draws me into the stories, that allows me to be a part of them, to observe as well, to be moved and yet remain untarnished. These stories can make me sad but I will not be destroyed by them–just as the protagonist comes out on the other side, so do I.
Indeed, there is something of a sentimental twist at the end of many of these stories, which at first I found disquieting but then I came to expect as I found it left me feeling elated–almost triumphant–as if I, too, had escaped my past and managed to find my way out of the dark or out of the bright, hot sun of Arizona, where life should be happy, but it is not.
It is this ability to retain hope when all seems lost, which pleases me.
Take the end of Don’t Call it Christmas, for example:
Driving west on Toneleo Road, he passed a few car lots and fast-food restaurants; then the suburbs gave way to red-earthed desert and cacti. Everything suddenly looked so odd it was hard to believe it had looked normal at one time, and that made him feel better. It was almost possible to imagine a time when the last several days might seem strange and far away, too, when he might look back on them with a kind of detached wonder. But he didn’t want to let them pass too quickly. There was a pleasure to what he felt, along with the pain, and he understood that to let it go would be to suggest the worst of life – that it was transitory and random, and quick to forget.
The protagonist is on the verge of detachment and yet remains in the moment: he has not given up hope even though he suspects he should. And as a reader, I come along with him on this ride and look forward to the future. I once again have faith.
It’s a wonderful collection. I recommend it highly.
p.s. you can also find another of my favorite stories from the collection online: Ongchoma–read it, please. You will not regret it.