“Recapture” by Erica Olsen

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Erica Olsen’s Recapture is an intrepid collection of short stories that will awaken anyone’s heart to the desert’s equanimity. The calm, zen-like descriptions of the landscape and the characters of each story, who are always searching for truth, paints a clear emotional representation of how the Southwest can sometimes feel.

The book includes mesmerizing tales about the curation of silence in empty mason jars, half-missed romances between men and women who briefly meet, and detailed accounts of what happens when one truly gets to the core of the Southwest’s personality, experienced through small towns, hiking trails, road trips and blue skies. Olsen’s detailed accounts include plant taxonomy, Native Americans, comets, and even aliens, all of which create an unparalleled, spiritual connection to the land.

While Olsen claims no hometown in the Southwest, these tales of identity and environment connect one to the timelessness ingrained deep within the land. In one story, a woman attempts to replace a Native American piece of pottery back to its original place in the desert, as though placing it back in time. As Olsen’s characters trek across the Four Corners, a place the author knows well because it’s her current stomping grounds, the stories unfold all over the landscapes of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. However, even if a reader has no knowledge of the specific towns, the lyrical calmness and thoughtful progression of each tale is a healing and enjoyable read.

Olsen’s own work as an archivist emerges in her writing as she discusses and explores the precious balance between preservation and access, a theme that weaves throughout her short story collection. The theme pops up even as an abandoned housewife cheats on her husband while he is on a business trip, a young man who drives through the desert highway makes a conscious decision to find love, and a cowboy from a rural town decides to seduce the local bookmobile’s librarian.

The book’s lyrical brilliance and thought provoking sentences give a peek into the calm, healing presence of the desert—a necessary experience for those who have yet to visit or live here. Olsen graduated from the University of Montana’s MFA program. Her works have also appeared in ZYZZYVA, High Desert Journal, and other publications. The short story “Grand Canyon II,” included in the collection, won the 2011 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose.

Recently published in Cactus Heart Press.

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