Local Music: Stories
by Walter Cummins
Egress Books

"For a moment he thought he might stay in this town. Forever. Or until something happened. But he knew when his car was finally fixed, he would turn around and go back home, spending the days on the road wondering what he and Glenn would talk about when he got there."

Local Music, Walter Cummins's third story collection, is a complex, insightful treatment of contemporary American middle-class life. Nothing is decidedly metaphysical about the world Cummins creates—no Melvillian "man-traps," no Claggarts—instead, the real-to-life desires, needs, and concerns typical of ordinary Americans. Where difficulties, pain, suffering, and trouble of one kind or another occur—and there is certainly a strong dose of trials and tribulations in this collection—they result from the nexus of human character, choice, and circumstance. Characters' lives are often harried, plagued by problems they can't seem to overcome, and yet Cummins's protagonists sometimes do find a measure of hope, and in compelling ways.  The intensity of their predicaments comes through in the author’s hard-hitting prose style. ...

Many of the stories that make up this collection are about urgency and need. Whether this need is to avoid contact with one's crazy mother, housed in an asylum; to have an ongoing relationship with one's brother, with a hateful sister-in-law in the picture; to find a new basis for relationship with one's sister, whose dysfunctional family arrangement now makes visiting nearly impossible; or to deal with the overwhelming medical exigencies of old age—these stories get right to the heart of the problems many of us face, or could face. If characters in Local Music sometimes feel utterly hopeless, there is nothing deterministic, nothing fatalistic, about this collection. Cummins captures the myriad troubles that plague ordinary humans in this world, their sometimes constrained choices, and the outcomes that follow. In capturing their ordinary struggles so well, and their now and then victories, this work is certainly a masterwork of classic American realism.

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