Pulp and Paper

University of Iowa Press  2011

The sense of place is primary in Pulp and Paper, Josh Rolnick’s sterling debut collection of stories. Characters are deeply set within their communities. In “Mainlanders,” teen-age islanders Tubby and Thomas struggle to impress a couple of young beauties from the mainland. The Jersey shore is powerfully evoked: mussel beds, dried black seaweed, land eels, weakfish stew. The dialogue is pitch-perfect and hilarious. In “Big Lake,” a high school boy blames himself for the death of a beloved teacher who fell through the ice on a local lake and drowned. Snowmobiles, ice-fishing shanties, moose sighting, and walleyes are among the signifiers. In the beautifully wrought title story, “Pulp and Paper,” an aging widow’s life intersects with a neighbor’s after a train derailment results in a tragic spill at a nearby plant. An elderly carousel operator recalls the bygone world of Coney Island in “Carousel”:  grand chariots, the brass ring, the carved wooden mermaids. Throughout, the language is rich and evocative, the point of view deeply compassionate.  

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