All My Relations
Set against the landscape of the American Southwest, this collection of eight precisely observed stories offers a powerful and moving series of observations about love and relationships in the modern world. In the title tale, Milton, a Pima Indian, quits drinking and finds success as a ranch hand in the employ of a stubborn white cattle owner. But his sobriety alienates him from his friends, and his long-missed wife and son return only as Milton descends into a debilitating, dream-like illness.
In “Simplifying,” Julia, a volunteer at the local zoo, finds renewed life in an affair with Philip, a 66 poet with brittle feet. In a line that has resonance for many of the characters here, Philip says: “For my wife and me, making a baby would have implied too much optimism about our future.”
In “Builders,” a close-knit family implodes under the pressure of building their dream house, only to be reborn in the thinner, less burdensome air of Denver. Describing their reunion, McIlroy writes, “Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure.” A winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, McIlroy writes with a spare elegance, consistently displaying the illuminating detail or the evocative description. His stories are grittily real, occasionally disturbing, filled with the breath of life.
– Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
McIlroy, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, offers unflinching and original portrayals of human weakness, solitude, and survival in the rural Southwest. In these stories, imperfect characters leading battered lives are as indomitable as the granite mountains and canyons that surround them. Dangerously receptive to the needs of others, McIlroy’s characters drink more than they should, fare badly in relationships, and are prone to infidelity. In “The March of the Toys,” Claire escapes her self-destructive brother and slowly dying father in Delaware only to move in with an unemployed alcoholic in Tucson. After leaving her lover, she befriends Leah, whose much younger live-in boyfriend is hopelessly unfaithful. As Leah’s domestic life deteriorates, Claire offers commiseration, and a therapeutic walk in the mountains ends in unexpected intimacy with the two women in Leah’s bed. Sensing Leah’s embarrassment about the incident, Claire explains it away and suppresses her own desire.
Similarly accommodating is Milton, a Pima Indian in the title story, who trades the drunken, rootless life of the reservation men for sober, backbreaking work on a white man’s ranch. Milton loses his job and family when, on a visit to the reservation, he is unable to refrain from drinking with friends in a bar. Accommodation inevitably leads to disappointment, which McIlroy’s characters often accept with comprehending grace. Only Boehm, the jilted husband of “In a Landscape Animals Shrink to Nothing,” retaliates against his arrogant and faithless wife. On a predivorce vacation in Mexico, he leaves her, drugged with sleeping pills, buried to the neck in the sand of a moonlit beach. Even this ominous adieu, however, is marked by Boehm’s untempered love: Before he departs, he carefully brushes the sand from her eyes and cheek. Tightly focused and tersely eloquent, McIlroy’s stories chronicle human inconstancy and end up affirming a tranquil wisdom.
— Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP
Set against the stark but seductive landscape of the American Southwest, the stories in All My Relations explore the inner landscape of mind and heart, where charting the simplest course is subject to a complex constellation of relationships. In the title story of the collection, a Pima Indian hires on with a rancher in an attempt to quit drinking and to win back the wife and son who have left him. His efforts to master land and horses and to bake the perfect cake mirror his efforts to subdue his own demons and to embrace a peaceful domesticity.
In “The Big Bang and the Good House”, Tony, a former drug dealer, pits his urge toward chaos against the orderly pleasures of marriage, finally yielding to the solidity and spaciousness of domestic love: “I feel myself gathering weight, density. Cautiously, I allow myself to inhabit this Good House, which surprisingly fits like my own body”. Julia, the aging protagonist of “Simplifying”, risream house with their own hands, and eventually they are forced to leave behind the illusion of safety and permanence: “Once the three had imagined themselves as a house on a hill, dug into stone with the tenacity of a lion. Now they sat tensely in canvas-backed chairs stretched like slingshots. They talked cautiously, with encouragement, hoping for the return of pleasure”.
Embodying the transience and openness of the New West, the characters in All My Relations reinvent themselves, even as they struggle with the age-old, perilous necessity of loving.