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Review: Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Mendocino Fire
Elizabeth Tallent

Genre: Short Story Anthology
Hardback: 272 Pages
Publication: October 20, 2015
by Harper

The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son's pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

Diverse in character and setting, rendered in an exhilarating, exacting prose, these stories confirm Tallent's enduring gift for capturing relationships in moments of transformation: marriages breaking apart, people haunted by memories of old love and reaching haltingly toward new futures. The result is a book that reminds us how our lives are shaped by moments of fracture and fragmentation, by expectations met and thwarted, and by our never-ending quest to be genuinely seen.


There is a sense of narrative distance that simultaneous makes me feel disconnected from the story yet draws me deeper into the characters' emotional conflict. The stories in Mendocino Fire don't give us direct insight into the narrators' minds. Instead, the narrators seem to observe the situations they find themselves in and comment on what is happening. The simplicity of the narration serves only to heighten the emotional tension by cutting away any excess that would take away from the story's focus.

It can be a challenge working through these stories. A lot of pronouns are used, so it was difficult at times for me to figure out to whom the narrator was referring. There are also time skips without an immediate explanation for what is happening or what has happened in the duration. Much is left to the reader to decipher the text. That's one of the beauty of short stories though. They're meant to be read and reread with new meaning drawn from the text with each reading.

Mendocino Fire won't be for everybody. It's deep, dense, and complicated. It isn't something that I would pick up for a casual read (though I can think of some people who would do just that). Nevertheless, I can see myself returning to one of these stories when I'm looking for a story that explores the depths of human nature, relationships, and conflicts.


  • Explicit Language
  • Sex

About the Author

Elizabeth Tallent is the author of the story collections Honey, In Constant Flight, and Time with Children, and the novel Museum Pieces. Since 1994 she has taught in the Creative Writing program at Stanford University. She lives on the Mendocino coast of California.

This post was made as part of TLC Book Tours
Click here to see the full tour schedule

4 comments on "Review: Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent"
  1. I don't read short stories that often but I appreciate the emotional impact they can provide. This sounds like a collection I can really dig into.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

    1. I agree, Heather. Thanks for the opportunity to read this collection! :)

  2. I really love short stories. I think the good ones are just as you described this book -- deep, dense, and something you return to over and over.

    1. I agree. That's what makes a good short story for me :)


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