Ann Packer's stories are like gourmet mashed potatoes --- ordinary,
everyday material, transformed to quintessence by a masterful hand.
This volume is a reissue by Vintage of a previous (1994)
collection, ten stories gathered from already-published sources and
printed under the name of the title story, MENDOCINO. Readers who
were first introduced to Ms. Packer by the success of last year's
novel, THE DIVE FROM CLAUSEN'S PIER, will be glad to have this
opportunity to read more of her fiction.
She writes with deceptive ease, most often lulling the reader into
a sort of warmish, homey daze. That is, until she zaps you with the
powerful insight that is the hallmark of all her work. Her
perception of the human condition is an even greater gift than her
pure writing ability --- and she has both qualities in abundance.
Reading a Packer story is both as exhausting and rewarding as
long-anticipated family visits.
She writes of relationships --- not only the relationships of one
person to another, but also of that deeper and more difficult to
acknowledge relationship: the one we each have with ourselves.
There is no better example of both than her lead story,
The second story of the ten, "Nerves," leans somewhat more in the
direction of the second type of relationship and the unveiling of
this truth is excruciatingly, exquisitely paced.
My personal favorite of all the stories is "Lightening" because it
is both somewhat more complex than the others and, for me anyway,
I am not copping out as a reviewer here when I say that each and
every one of the ten stories in this volume is so densely woven and
of such intense construction that I would do both the author and
the reader a disservice if I were to try to say what each story "is
about." Nor am I being too tongue-in-cheek when I say that each
story is approximately five thousand words. There are no plots to
reveal as such, not like in a novel. Each story recounts incidents
in the lives of the characters and places them in a chosen setting.
Do we need to know that about half the stories take place in
Northern California, while the rest are on the East Coast or in the
Midwest? Not really, because it's the inner landscape that matters
to Ann Packer.
Read, enjoy and learn from her. I can't really tell you about it.
You'll have to see for yourself, in the same way that you have to
eat the master chef's mashed potatoes to experience the magnitude
of that difference.
Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 22, 2011
Mendocino and Other Stories