Any Deadly Thing by Roy Kesey | Book review
Kesey crafts a masterful story collection.
Geographically, the stories in Roy Kesey’s new collection, Any Deadly Thing, are all over the place: rural America, the Great Wall of China, war-torn Croatia, the corners of Peru, even a dream-world landscape. But most of the characters in these 17 works are coming from places not quite so varied. Regardless of their proximity to families, lovers, neighbors and friends, they are—at least spiritually and emotionally—out in the middle of nowhere and feeling the effects of their isolation.
Kesey explores this disconnect between people and their surroundings from a variety of angles. The retired academic in “Body Asking Shadow” has his much-anticipated post-retirement life grated raw by new upstairs neighbors. He’s near an act of violence when he realizes that his demands for peace and quiet are as intrusive on the neighbors’ life as their noisy toddler is on his. At first, the impromptu, almost comical family gathering at the center of “Stillness” appears to be about just another discomfited reunion of mismatched kin. By the end, however, we realize that the distances between them were put in place on purpose and by bridging them, the family members only bring themselves closer to anger and resentment.
Kesey’s writing is elegant and detailed in Any Deadly Thing, anchoring story lines that are at times surreal. Trying to understand what love means to the psychologically unsteady narrator of “Asuncion,” or remaining grounded with the characters throughout the frantic, dreamy “Today/Tomorrow,” could easily be a chore if the author weren’t so precise and thoughtful with his language. Kesey knows the mood he’s setting, knows how to guide the reader through these stories and knows just when to step away when they are over.