These stories are told by people you know—or you.
When Close Is Fine was published in 2012, it was Eliot Treichel’s first book, though not his first time being published. Today, it holds up as a beautiful and lovingly written book. All the stories are set in rural Wisconsin, but anyone can identify with the moments of light and darkness, because all the characters speak with unique and authentic human voices.
The stories are dark though, as closed-in and claustrophobic as Wisconsin winters. Treichel’s characters are drifting, getting caught in the tides of change that envelop them and using small, makeshift repairs to muddle through. They do the best they can with the ruin left by bad circumstances and bad choices.
Treichel’s writing is reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor in that he asks the reader to respond to each story on an emotional, intellectual, and ethical level. In “On By,” the protagonist, Brian, tells us that, “Sara always put forth a theory that men lacked foresight, but I was sure that, on occasion, I had practiced some forward thinking.” This irony blazes from the page, because the opening paragraph tells the reader what will happen even if Brian lacks the awareness and self-awareness to see what the reader does. Treichel masterfully highlights the bad lies we tell each other and the worse lies we tell ourselves. We are left, depending on our own proclivities, to scream, “Stop!” or “Yes, do it!” while the inevitable action and reaction unfold.
The stories are most often told in the first person, and even when they’re told in the third person, they’re limited to one character’s perspective. Despite this, Treichel creates a new and unique voice for each of the nine stories. No one could mistake the little girl who seeks to save orphaned baby mice in “We’re Not That” for the middle aged man who has a similar experience with an orphaned bear cub in “Stargazer.” Nor could one mistake Brian of “On By” with the title story’s narrator.
Close Is Fine also has a timeless feel. Even when the world around the characters is dated, the reader knows that people continue to feel this way, act this way, now and for years to come. Our grandparents did, and our grandchildren will. The stories capture the human experience in the best way possible—by distilling life’s oceans of grief and drops of humor into the truth of what it is to be human.
My favorite story was “The Lumberjack’s Story.” It’s set apart from the others in several ways. It takes place in a much earlier time period; logging is done by humans rather than gas-powered saws. Though it has a first person narrator, he is not part of the conflict. Rather, he is watching it—the battle of two lumberjacks, one scorned but secretly rooted-for, one more feared than admired. The outcome, something the narrator is powerless change, will affect not only him, but everyone around him. He is watching it all, telling the reader about it. And his narration is glorious. We all perceive ourselves to be the main character of our own story—of the world, even. The narrator here does not. He is merely the purveyor of information. He is a gossip! And not even a reliable one if the tone is to be believed. Maybe it says something about me that I like him and his story so much.
I found each story compelling. Though Close Is Fine may not be enjoyable for all readers or comfortable for any, it sticks in one’s mind. You will be thinking about Whittin, Walters, and Mary for weeks after reading it.