The Neighborhood Division: Stories by Jeff Vande Zande is the best book of fiction I’ve read in a long long time.
I’ve been a serious reader of novels and short story collection for pretty much my entire adult life (55 years at least) but I haven’t read a book as good as this one in probably about 5 years, not since Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.
Vande Zande’s got what Donna Tartt’s got, an incredible sense of language, an ability to understand people, and a gift for creative narrative. In each of the stories in this volume, Vande Zande writes of people facing real problems that separate them from the people in their communities. In an early story called "The Long Run," for instance, he writes of a person lost while running in a new neighborhood. His simple story of being lost quickly evolves into a metaphor for his relationship to his wife and his father and the person the main character understands or doesn’t understand himself to be. Every other story in this collection is just as strong, just as satisfying.
I found this collection especially important in this time of pandemic because so many of the stories deal with isolation, real isolation and psychological isolation, and people trying to understand how they can make sense of the lives they are no longer connected to. Reading the book was like getting live reports from the pandemic world around me.
Jeff Vande Zande is one great writer, and I’m going to read another of his books tomorrow.
Here's a piece of the story "The Long Run" that I mentioned earlier:
He kept running.
A block ahead, an old man turned out of a driveway toward him, moving meticulously behind a walking stick. Andy stopped a few feet in front of him.
“Do you know where this road goes?” he asked, pointing. The old man turned and looked down the street. “Well--”
“I’m just wondering if there’s a back way into the Alpine neighborhood.”
The man turned back toward Andy. He put both hands on his stick and leaned. “Which Alpine?”
He looked thoughtful. “I’m not sure where that one--”
The sweat on Andy’s upper lip began to cool. “It’s where the old boy scout camp used to
The old man smiled. “Okay. I know where you mean, now. I was a part of that camp when I was a kid.” His forehead furrowed. “There’s a back way, but you gotta know your way around. Better off just sticking to--”
Andy told him that he wanted to make a circle so he didn’t have to backtrack. “You said there’s a way?”
“There’s a way.” He turned again and pointed into the distance. “Just stay on Third. It’s going to twist you through some neighborhoods, but you’ll come out on Lee. Take a right on Lee and go past East Ridge. When you come to West Ridge, turn in there and follow it around to Maltby. Take Maltby to Hamburg and that should get you there, but--”
“Lee to West Ridge, West Ridge to Maltby and Maltby to Hamburg,” Andy recited.
The old man nodded, dabbing his fingertips at the snow in his eyebrows. “What do you think of our April weather?”
Andy launched back into his run. “It’s not too bad,” he called back over his shoulder.
He guessed that the houses along Third represented the older part of the town – what it used to be before all of the Alpine Terraces, Vistas, Ridges, and Views began to spring up. The homes around him were small, neat, and not separated by acres of lawn. A few men were on a roof pitching shingles into a dumpster in the driveway. A plastic Santa Claus was still tied to the chimney.
Andy’s sweat held a skin of warmth around him. The cold and snow in the air did nothing. Starting to climb a hill at the end of Third, he checked his watch. Twenty minutes. His thighs burned against the hill’s incline. He clapped his hands a few times, encouraging himself. “Come on,” he whispered, smiling.
Just past the crest of the hill the road came to a T intersection. Must be Lee, he thought, but the sign had too many letters. The words came into focus. Meadow Valley Lane.
Andy stopped and caught his breath. Meadow Valley Lane curved to the right on his left and curved to the left on his right. It was flanked in both directions by newer builds that had probably gone up within the last five years.
Where was Lee? Andy shivered. He’d stood still too long. Turning to the right, he started running again.
Here's a link to the Amazon site about The Neighborhood Division. Just click here.