Some folks say Jack Driscoll doesn’t get out much. The same people are inclined to say that this is the reason Driscoll remains “our best-kept literary secret.” If they mean that this fabulous writer hasn’t yet achieved the size of audience he deserves, then I certainly agree with them. But Driscoll is indeed part of the conversation, certainly in Michigan, where he taught for several decades at the Interlochen Academy of Arts, but also nationally, where his work has won some prestigious awards. Perhaps he is known mostly as a “writer’s writer,” but I think that slightly condescending characterization will soon disappear.
His extraordinary new collection of short stories, The World of a Few Minutes Ago, should certainly bring Driscoll a host of new readers. Most of the action in these ten stories takes place in northern Michigan, and, yes, there is a lot of snow in the book. Driscoll peoples his stories with a wide assortment of characters, and they all speak with memorable and unique voices. One down-at-the-heels couple breaks into homes for fun. A retired photographer, who travelled the world taking pictures of the horrors of the last century, returns home to find his wife slipping away into indifference and dementia. A lucky hunter wins a trip to Hawaii to shoot a wild boar. A high school girl, thinking her teacher is attracted to her, discovers that he is still deeply attached to his scarred and talented wife.
It is the measure of Jack Driscoll’s humanity that he is able to bring us into the lives of all of these different kinds of characters. We experience their joys and their grief. Their sadnesses are real and profound; Driscoll dismisses no one because of politics or difference or limitation. He is generous in a visceral way that few writers understand.
This generosity is reflected even in the language he uses to shape his characters–all of it precise but often very different. Here’s a young woman working in a bar in northern Michigan, describing her life with her former husband: “It’s sad but true that I’ve viewed more of this wide world than I’d like to admit from the tin-hootch roof of a house trailer with cheap venetian blinds and russet-colored dollar-a-yard carpeting. There, in the summer months, Paulie stashes a grill and a Styrofoam cooler of Hamm’s on ice. And he refers to the two wooden pallets and makeshift planking that he hauled up there as our–ready for this?–portico.” And contrast that with this, in the voice of the aging photographer in the collection’s title story, as he tries to describe and even defend his own tentative optimism: “Consider this: stars exist that our night has never seen, but here it is again, a Friday night, and there is a breeze, and that scratchy music of crickets, like everything that rises and sets, has already begun to quiet.” Each of these stories has more than one such moment, of pathos or vividness, that might bring a susceptible reader to the edge of tears.
Jack Driscoll reads from his new collection at Nicola’s on Wednesday, April 18.