Saturday, April 13, 2013

From Vintage Paperbacks

The Natural Order of Things

Comprised of 15 interconnected stories, The Natural Order of Thingsis properly thought of as a novel in the tradition of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio or John Steinbeck's The Pastures of Heaven ― but with a gothic sensibility. The novel concerns the adventures and exploits of a small group of students, teachers, employees, and priests at a Jesuit prep school in a dying industrial city. Its stories harbor star quarterbacks who sabotage important games, the head coach with a gambling addiction wagering on his own team, an elderly priest suffering from acute memory loss who dabbles in heretical beliefs, and others who swim against the tides of society's proscribed roles.  "The Black Death of Gentile da Foligno" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by author Thomas E. Kennedy. Another story, "Uncreated Creatures," was nominated for a StorySouth Million Writers Award by the editor of The Stickman Review. A third story, "The Spy" won second prize for the Lorain County/Ohio Arts Council Award, judged by Nancy Zafris, editor of The Kenyon Review.

Publishers Weekly said of The Natural Order of Things in a starred review (October 15): Keating toys with narrative chronology in this debut collection of interwoven stories that follows the lives of several “reprobates who have descended into... Hades.” At the center of an unnamed, ruined city of American industry thrives, tumorlike, a Jesuit high school and the Zanzibar Towers and Gardens, a flophouse where both students and alums slum it with prostitutes. In the opening story, “Vigil,” students have gathered at the Zanzibar to celebrate Halloween and the next day’s big football game with kegs of beer they stole from a senile priest in the final story, “Gehenna,” that was delivered in the second story, “Box,” by the father of star quarterback Frank “the Minotaur” McSweeney. “I’m counting on you. We all are,” says the Minotaur’s father, but the day of the big game, as in all the connected stories, we find out just how big a letdown everyone in this life can be. Story by story, the collection circumnavigates suffering—someone lights the homeless on fire at night; a merchant marine boxes up a man to ship him overseas; priests humiliate and shame their students, while one teacher loves them too much—in a place where most of its inhabitants “would rather gamble on a human life than try to save one."

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