"Head of the Lakes" by Anthony Bukoski; Nodin Press (185 pages, $19.95 paper)
Ghosts, rust, fog and booze lend somber ballast to the haunting, beautiful short stories of Anthony Bukoski, all set in his native Superior, Wis.
He writes about Polish-Americans whose parents and grandparents came to that singular, gritty town in the early part of the last century, often having barely escaped war and starvation. Fiercely Catholic and nostalgic for all things Polish, they were happy to be in what was once a boom town. But soon it became a shadowed place of lost jobs and dashed hopes, of bars and brothels and decaying docks and freighters.
Today, Superior retains that lonesome, shabby feel, even as its proximity to Lake Superior gives it a backdrop of stunning beauty, and even as it is the unheralded home to some true treasures, among them Bukoski. His characters are often dying, demented, disappointed, depressed, dreaming or drunk. And yet in many of his stories, a character encounters some melancholy grace, suddenly able to see his or her life with clarity and self-compassion.
"Head of the Lakes" is a collection of stories drawn from Bukoski's previous three books, all of them remarkable collections. Few writers are as masterful as Bukoski in portraying the power of place, for better or worse, in our lives.