‘Remarkable’ by Dinah Cox
Author: July Westhale
August 23, 2016
A good many of my favorite books are about places no one writes about. It is easy to write about a coastal city—say, Oakland, where I live, or New York, where many of my friends live. In these bustling places, there is movement. There are a good many things to do, ways to pass time, access to resources and communities rich with the hum of novelty.
But many of my favorite pieces of writing are about landscape and place where landscape and place must become character in and of themselves—there is nothing else to rely upon. In Dorothy Allison’s Cavedweller, Georgia is the stagnant, still, oppressive landscape the protagonist literally flees underground to escape. Place, in these overlooked parts of the country, must prove itself, or at least become a template for characters to do the good work of proving themselves.
Dinah Cox’s Remarkable does this beautifully. Set in Oklahoma (with ever-present reminders of Oklahoma and the characters’ indifference or desires to leave or stay there), the stories in this collection are sharp, precise, and surprising. In the title story, a girl watches her grandfather burn down the family business, a place called Remarkable’s Furniture. In another story, a girl eavesdrops on conversations in a museum that illuminate her present place in history. The stories are realistic and yet retain a sort of whimsical nature—as if to say, this, this is worth examining more closely. As if to say, yes, I know this place and these people have been overlooked.
Not once does the prose become sanctimonious, which is an affliction that sometimes strikes writers writing about their hometowns. Instead, Cox writes thoughtfully and carefully, showcasing her deftness with language and nuance, and the multidimensional nature of her ordinary characters.
By Dinah Cox
Paperback, 9781942683100, 192 pp.