beautifully written, richly conceived, and soundly executed
By John Williams, The Denver Post
Kerr's stories are fictions of quests and discoveries and though they are set mainly in the West and Southwest, and though Kerr evokes with great accuracy and richness the natural figurations of the land, they are by no means the literary exploitations of the West to which we have become so used. Here, landscape and character are inseparable; one is the embodiment of the other. Kerr avoids the easy and portentous symbolism that besets much modern fiction, particularly fiction set in the West; he trusts his own intelligence and sympathy, and he trusts the intelligent and sympathetic response of the reader. These are extremely satisfying stories, beautifully written, richly conceived, and soundly executed.
They are particularly welcome in a time when it is widely supposed that that most indigenous of American literary forms, the short story, is in some trouble. We have seen the demise of many magazines that once abounded with good short fiction; we have seen the increasing reluctance of book publishers to take on the commercial risk of issuing original volumes of short stories; and we have seen the effects of these conditions upon a great deal of the short fiction being written today—conditions which persuade many writers to court the eccentric, the outlandish and the hysterical, in a poor effort to attract the attention of someone.
But Baine Kerr hasn't been persuaded to do so, and for that we can be grateful. He writes an honest, clear, and sometimes distinguished prose; his stories unfailingly engage the deepest interest of the reader, and they reverberate with those with those intimations of experience and understanding without which no fiction will long endure. Jumping-Off Place is an auspicious beginning; it deserves our respect and attention.
John Edward Williams (1922–1994) won the National Book Award for Fiction for his novel Augustus. A native of Clarksville, Texas, he was the author of four novels, including Augustus and Stoner, named the Must-Read Novel of 2013 by Julian Barnes in the Guardian, and two books of poetry. He taught creative writing at the University of Denver from 1955 until his retirement in 1985.
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Kerr writes with force and forthrightness
By Lee K. Abbott, The Ohio Review
Baine Kerr is not a less-is-more story-teller. On the contrary, in the four stories of Jumping-Off Place, Mr. Kerr gives us—there's no other word for it—a motherlode of information: on deserts, on Army life, on traveling, on history and the whole and honest folk who live it. Kerr writes westerns—not the shoot-'em-up, galoot in the black Stetson, sod-buster versus cattleman sort, but the kind in which, as old Hank James did suggest, "landscape is character." ...
Kerr comes at a story from every direction but the obvious, his "angle" of address various and surprising, his plots—remember those old-fashioned things?—as tight as knots. ...
Indeed, you can trust Kerr for much: for proper pace and for the inside poop of feeling or thought and for endings which offer "knowledge, the meaning of mysteries." You can even trust him for irony, particularly that which makes "a trip a memorable exodus, lousy with symbols and deeper meanings, with resolution and revelation, the stuff of literature ...."
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an eloquent thinker and a traditional writer in the best sense
By Marilyn Krysl, The Bloomsbury Review
Kerr's prose is precise and lucid, appropriately adaptable to its shifting subjects. ...
We're reminded of Faulkner and his belief that it is the encounter with wilderness that teaches us courage and humility and his fear that with the destruction of wilderness these virtues might disappear. We need writers whose work evokes the grandeur and awesome extent of the natural world, the sheer beauty of the land and the poignancy of human existence within this natural landscape, the healthy and undeniable tempering of our sense of reality that this relation to place—our place—inevitably educes. Kerr is certainly a writer for whom this is a primary theme. He is an eloquent thinker and a traditional writer in the best sense of the word.
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Drawing on the timeless theme of journeys into terrae incognitae, on a Melvillian concept of the elemental incarnated in nature, the four masterfully crafted stories in Baine Kerr's Jumping-Off Place create a compelling fiction of the modern American West.
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Stories that recall Melville's language and symbol
These four stories, set in the modern American West, are carefully crafted, richly evocative, and remarkably compact. In each one, the West itself—a "huge broken bowl claiming parts of seven states"—serves as both symbol and character. A berserk geologist who destroys an ancient tree, two incompatible travelers returning east, a youth obsessed with memories of his dead handyman-father who passed the seasons following natural calamities, an alienated airline passenger whose desire for human contact presages a futile attempt to pick up a naive teenager—these characters play their parts against the backdrop of the Western expanse. The first of Kerr's stories, "Rider," is reminiscent of Melville's "The Encantadas"; the other stories likewise recall Melville's language and symbol.
theme of self-rescue marks an intelligent, ardent collection
By Cia McClanahan, The Louisville Courier-Journal
Three of the four stories in this intelligent and deceptively modest volume share a common theme: the labor referred to in the Taoist book of wisdom, the I Ching, as "Work on what is spoiled"—the struggle to repair the catastrophically broken, to remake lives nearly ruined by the evils of personal experience. ...
This intelligent and quietly ardent book of stories is as carefully written, as free of cant and as amusing as contemporary fiction ought to be.
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