I think he is one of our greatest living writers and adore the way he has drawn fearlessly on autobiography, including devastating events (incarceration of loved ones, repeated losses) to write his fiction. I learn constantly from his transmutation of reality into fiction, his precise, original, utterly compelling calibration of how much truth to tell. Also, the lyricism of that first paragraph, in particular sentences like: “Footsteps, voices, a skein of life dragged bead by bead through a soft needle’s eye.” There is something in the scope of this first paragraph reminiscent of James Agee and yet completely original and specific to Pittsburgh, the natural world a respite rather than pervasive in this setting.
First published in The Stories of John Edgar Wideman, Pantheon, 1992, which was republished as All Stories Are True, Vintage Contemporaries/Picador, 1993
I read this story in a book of Wideman’s stories I was sent to review for my student newspaper. I’d never heard of Wideman, and his name isn’t much mentioned today. Although I eventually lost my copy, or gave it away, a couple of its stories have stayed with me over the years, especially one I remembered as ‘Loon Lake’: a haunting thing set somewhere in rural North America – the heart of the heart of the country – with the calls of loons (divers) echoing around remote shacks at night. I reunited myself with the collection via the internet, and although there are other stories in it I now think are better (‘Across the Wide Missouri’ for instance), it’s ‘Loon Man’ that belongs in my anthology, for the way it lodged in my consciousness and coloured my thoughts for more than twenty years. “On full moon nights the loons howl like crazed dogs.”
(first published in the U.S. in All Stories are True; the same title was used for his Picador UK collected stories, which is where I read it)