Russell Banks is a recent find for me and this book - the third of his I have read following Continental Drift and The Reserve - was no disappointment.
It is a collection of 16 short stories centered on a community living in a trailer park in northern New England.
This park is a kind of symbol of the United States in the 1970s where different kinds of people are forced to live side by side whether they like it or not.
Banks has created a cast that could easily fall into stereotypes - repressed homosexual, retired army officer, black nurse, teenage pothead, eccentric old man, unfaithful young wife etc - but he avoids this trap, thanks to his style which manages to be both sharp and understated at the same time.
He conveys not just the personalities of the individuals but also the communal personality of the trailer park.
He does so with particular skill in the best story - The Fisherman - which ends the collection and brings virtually all the characters together in a memorable final scene. This is one of the best things I have read in years.
The Guinea Pig Lady is another fine work and, like The Fisherman, is more of a novella than a short story.
In fact, I feel that Banks is better with these longer pieces as they give him more room to develop an idea. Some of the shorter pieces are feeble in comparison and not up to scratch.