By Doug Hare EBS Staff
My high school English teacher used to say that in novels there is character evolution, while in short stories there are character revelations. David Long is a writer who has mastered both techniques.
Long grew up in rural Massachusetts and studied at the University of Montana during the 1970s—the heyday of the M.F.A. program—under acclaimed writers and teachers like Richard Hugo, Madeline DeFrees and Bill Kittredge. He began his studies as a poet and emerged as a promising writer of short fiction.
Long then moved to Kalispell in northwest Montana and spent almost three decades in Flathead County before moving to Tacoma, Washington, in 1999. Many of his best short stories are located in Sperry County, his fictionalized account of Flathead County.
Ever-present in his writing is his love for the Pacific Northwest, from Seattle to Helena. Some reviewers of his work talk about his evocative descriptions of harsh, barren Western landscapes, but for the most part, his stories are located in fertile mountain valleys.
In the same vein, many critics have misread Long’s style as mundane, run-down and despairing. Sure, his characters are often drifters, ne’er-do-wells, long distance truckers or cowboys with hidden scars just getting by, making tough decisions and living with them. Better readings of his work reveal Long’s ability to confront the everyday head-on, and when he is at his best, his stripped-down, colloquial sentences seem to re-enchant the commonplace.
We are lucky that writers like Long were able to buck the literary trend of romanticizing life in rural mid-century Montana. The authenticity of his descriptions slowly builds along with simple plotlines, giving his narrative arc a trajectory that culminates in brilliant moments of catharsis for confused, down-and-out characters.
In his short story “Eclipse,” this line reverberates with the weight of the entire story behind it: “You see how it is with trouble and happiness, There are some good moments, aren’t there. Were you asking for more than that?”
In one interview, Long said, “A novelist creates more of a world and fills it up; a short story writer uses much more suggestion … you leap from there to the next sentence. Whereas, often, a novelist puts in every stepping-stone.”
While Long can also now call himself an accomplished novelist, winning various awards for “The Falling Boy” (1997), “The Daughters of Simon Lamoreaux” (2000), and “The Inhabited World” (2006), I would recommend his third collection of short stories, “Blue Spruce” (1997). In almost every piece, Long’s skill at leaping from sentence to sentence, stone to stone, leads to moments of suggestion where characters reveal deep truths that were hidden in plain sight.
Doug Hare is the Distribution Coordinator for Outlaw Partners. He studied philosophy and American literature at Princeton and Harvard universities.