By Doug Hare EBS Staff
When Montana State University professor and poet Greg Keeler was asked why Montana has so many acclaimed authors compared to similarly populated states, he said, “I don’t know for sure. Some of them were born here. Some of us came for the trout.”
MSU graduate Callan Wink falls into the latter category. A Michigan native, Wink has been guiding drift boat fly-fishing trips on the Yellowstone River in spring, summer, and fall for over a decade. In the winter, he writes from his home in Paradise Valley.
Also holding a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Wyoming, Wink has already been published in The New Yorker, and his novella “In Hindsight” can be found in full on its website. Not too shabby for a part-time writer in his early 30s.
Published in 2016, Wink’s “Dog Run Moon” is an impressive debut collection of short stories. Within three pages of the namesake piece, a dognapper is running naked cutting his feet on sharp rimrock pursued by a shady businessman and his accountant on an ATV. Here is a chase story not easily forgotten.
The protagonist calls his ex-girlfriend and says, “I ran afoul of some bad people in a matter concerning a dog.” Most of his characters have clothes and shoes on, but almost all of them are down-and-out, blue-collar workers making or about to make bad decisions, and each one reveals redeemable qualities that make them engaging, relatable and usually affable.
“Crow Country Moses” might be the best story in the whole collection. The protagonist, driving lost around eastern Montana, looks back on his delinquent childhood while dealing with the death of his mother and the pipe dreams of an aging father. “Breatharians” is another piece where Wink’s raw talent for telling memorable stories about 21st-century rural life is undeniable.
Writing about contemporary fiction in Montana, Bill Kittredge said, “Our writers are no longer paying attention to the old hide-bound mythology of the Western; they are writing from their own experiences, discovering and defining their own demons and battles, engaged in the constant business of the artist—renaming the sacred.”
Wink’s versatility and originality are on full display in this collection, but one leitmotif is pain: breakups, workplace accidents, killing cats, suicides, cancer, the death of loved ones. He does not shy away from confronting tragedies, large or small. But the other theme that offsets the oftentimes grim plotlines is the way his stories are also veiled meditations on the nature of healing.
Comparisons will be made between Wink and a young Cormac McCarthy, the late Jim Harrison, or Tom McGuane, but Wink has already carved out his own inimitable style: bold, frenetic, introspective and darkly comical. We’re lucky Montana has long winters.
Doug Hare is the Distribution Coordinator for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.
A version of this article was first published in the Oct. 14, 2016, edition of EBS.