Following in Flannery O’Connor’s footsteps by way of Larry Brown, Dan Leach’s Floods and Fires depicts men and women afflicted by some devilish imp of self-destructiveness and abuse, driving them to poor choices and poorer relationships. “Digger Duane” is the most direct story along this theme, capturing its dark humor, as it’s Duane’s letter to his estranged wife as he writes to her from across the street in his truck, promising not to slash her boyfriend’s tires again. Duane does not seem to understand what it is that led him to do so, nor that it will probably lead him to meanness again. Similar characters populate the collection: a teenage hotshot in “Waxwing,” regresses to cover the shame of realizing his own arrogance; a hapless man on a wheel of fortune spun by his own restlessness into both wealth and squalor in “My Time on the Bottom.” Throughout, characters are beset by “problems . . . from inside,” falling to self-destruction more often than not. One nod to theology from a “runaway Baptist” suggests God only lets people get so happy, and hurts them “just to keep you clinging to the cross.” Environment plays a role here too, as poverty, cruel upbringings, and closed-minded society heaps further suffering on these characters.
A few seek transcendence, or escape. The most luminous story here, “Floods and Fires,” gives a harrowing account of the escape of a misunderstood young man and his father to a mysterious shack in the woods, their only respite from a cruel sheriff. In “Transportation,” a story rife with dizzying irony, a young boy imagines his flight over and above his troubling circumstances. In “Not Home Yet,” the closing story, a man finally leaves one bad situation (and woman) for one who promises, to his weary heart at least, some deliverance; a return home. And we believe right along with him that he’ll find it, truth be damned.