Mifflin Company (1998)
Byers stunning debut collection, The Coast of Good Intentions
is alarmingly picturesque, flirting at times with the Carveresque.
But Mr. Byers work transforms the bleak into endearing possibility;
short sentences blossom into flowing, metaphorical language that
takes the reader to the Pacific Northwest, a territory Carver did
not leave unexplored.
compassion for his charactersyoung, middle-aged and oldrenders
them attractive; generosity is apparent throughout, saturating the
collection with heartwarming appeal. The protagonists are geneticists,
teachers, video game consultants, computer programmers, assistant
directors, students, ferry workers, retirees. With or without close
friendships and/or marriage, many are alone. The solitary life plays
a big part in this work. And although all the stories take place
in the Pacific Northwest, each setting is distinct, be it in Seattle,
a cranberry bog, a kite festival, a hospital, or an A-frame high
up in on a mountain overlooking Roslyn. For Mr. Byers, the range
of possibilities seems to be endless.
the Cranberry Coast," the first story of the collection, demonstrates
a retired teachers new-found love for an old high school crush,
Rosie, and his growing affection for her six-year-old granddaughter,
Hannah. "Shipmates Down Under," which is anthologized
in The Best American Short Stories of 1997
, renders the dynamics
between Alvin, a geneticist, and his family as they anticipate a
trip to Alvins homeland in Australia. The relationship between
Alvin and his son, Ted, is charming and dear, and the hardships
and hope between Alvin and his wife, Harriet, are painstakingly
real as she attempts to provide a balance between her career and
family. In "In Spain, One Thousand and Three," Martin
Tuttleman grieves over his deceased wife, Evelyn, struggles with
his sexual urges, which seem to dominate him, and shamefully recalls
his past sexual excursions. "A Fair Trade" follows the
life of from two months after the death of her father, who was killed
in the Pacific during WWII when she was 14, to nearly four decades
later through success and failure in both her personal and professional
lives. Andies love-hate relationship with her aunt, Maggie,
is quietly and carefully portrayed, and one can see faint hope in
Andies aloneness, which she earnestly cherishes. Reflecting
on her life in adulthood, "It turned out to be a life she loved.
She became, and she knew it, self-regarding. She would rather imagine
people than be with them, but she was fairly sure this had always
it seemed to her she had always been a solitary
In "Blue River,
Blue Sun," Joseph mourns his divorce, while his ex-wife, May,
finds a new lover, a psychologist who works in the same office as
she. Joseph moves into his dead fathers empty home, "telling
himself he was killing two birds with one stone." Paula Hubberton,
his department secretary, who is experiencing divorce as her husband,
Rick, is having an affair, approaches Joseph at work. They plan
a date and ride out to the river, where they lose their inhibitions,
sensing hope in their futures instead of mourning for their pasts.
"In the Kingdom of Prester John" is an interesting look
into Toms life. His uncle, Ron, disappears into craziness
and Tom wonders about his own state of mind, as this trait of mental
instability has been passed down from former generations. In "Dirigibles,"
after a visit by a former fellow ferry worker, Howard and Louise
seem happier somehow, content in their retired lives, despite Louises
All of these stories
are marvelous and tender. The writing is beautiful and at times
alarming. The Coast of Good Intentions
imagery provide rich landscapes into which one is repeatedly absorbed.
As Charles Baxter states, "Byerss stories are wise, beautiful,
and necessary." This is powerful. The Coast of Good Intentions
is a gorgeous, fascinating debut from a consistently talented author.