mendocino fire book coverReviewed by Alisha Churbe

Mendocino Fire is collection of ten medium-length short stories. They are well written and the prose is beautiful throughout. Tallent captures conversations well, her characters always say just enough, never too much. Tallent’s stories are filled with characters that are very real and memorable–she does a great job of illustrating human behavior. In the title story, a hippie’s intelligent daughter turned environmentalist spends a large of amount of time in a tree that cannot be saved. “Eros 101” is a story of an obsessive affair between a Virginia Wolff scholar and a junior professor.  The story is written in a question and answer interview format. “Nobody You Know” follows the story of “X” who receives a note from her ex-husband. In the note, he describes his new life and X goes back to the town out of curiosity. What X ultimately encounters there is unexpected. The story of “The Wrong Son” tells of Nate, the son and his relationship with his father, Shug, who has said that Nate is the ‘wrong son.’ Nate turns their fishing business into a sport fishing expedition for tourists and a sequence of events changes the relationship between these two men.

Tallent’s characters are memorable, the stories themselves focus tightly on a small number of characters, and the stories are always zoomed in on a specific relationship, not addressing the rest of the world’s noise. Some bare their souls to the reader and expose all the flaws that make them human. Others surprise the reader with the decisions they ultimately make at the brink, when everything is on the line.

As a collection, Mendocino Fire is dense. All the stories are well written and are an in-depth exploration of human nature. Tallent’s stories are tense, entertaining and I enjoyed the collection immensely for the characters, writing, descriptions and the structure of the stories. The collection was worth the wait; it’s been a number of years since Tallent’s last collection. Tallent has observed her environment well; these new stories are focused mostly in California (where she now resides) and are different than her past stories set almost exclusively in the Southwest.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by HarperCollins Publishers. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.