Thursday, September 22, 2011

On "Liability" by S. P. Tenhoff (5597 words) ****

Stephen Dixon's Interstate is a novel that takes a heartrending event and obsesses over it--over and over and over. Tenhoff's short story does something similar. It's not repetitive in the way that Dixon's book is, and it doesn't go on nearly as long, and in a way that's better. For while Dixon's Interstate is a fascinating exercise, it is a difficult book to actually finish. Tenhoff's story is not.

"Liability" also does some other things nicely as well. The decisions in weekly chess matches are paired against the decisions made while driving (a single point can send a given match to its inevitable close ten moves down). The main character's worry over his own son is matched against the worry over the boy that his car hits. His drinking becomes a matter of concern--or doesn't.

What Tenhoff manages particularly well here, however, is getting into the mind of a man who has done something accidental but horribly life changing. The writing is listless to start, then it increasingly focuses on issues of liability and of guilt. Who is at fault? Could it very well be the man's fault? Add in small details about insurance bureaucracy and you have the makings of something that seems almost real Read the story here at Swink.

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