‘A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me’, stories by David Gates (2015) 314 pages
The stories in ‘A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me’ are about adults. That does not mean they behave responsibly. They drink too much; they have affairs on the side. They sneak off for a tryst away from their wives or husbands with a lie. Most of the people in these stories write or teach for a living. Thus they are very good at expressing their side of the story.
Many of the stories in ‘A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me’ are about old men having unpleasant affairs with much younger women. Considering this dismal subject, the stories are surprisingly energetic and engaging despite there being a certain sameness to several of them. The old men in these stories seem driven to pursue sexual affairs with much younger women, and after he gets the woman the old man feels guilty and takes it out on her with his extreme dislike. Life isn’t always pretty. I wish Gates would try some other subject matter once in a while in his stories. A little variety would be a good thing.
David Gates was a literary star of the 1990s. I remember being much impressed with his two novels ‘Jernigan’ and ‘Preston Falls’. The two novels are in the realistic mode and show a willingness to look hard at the sordid sides of upper middle-class life on the order of Richard Ford or Russell Banks. ‘A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me’ is the first book Gates has published since 2002.
The last story in this collection, the title story, is probably the best story, because it is about someone the old man narrator actually likes. That person Paul Thompson is a hillbilly musician whom the narrator met when he was young and also in a band. Over the years they have been in bands together and attended weekend parties together, and now Paul is seventy-one years old and dying. Paul wants to stay at the narrator’s place to spend his last days, and the narrator agrees. Of course, this being a David Gates story, the two old men both have younger girlfriends, but at least in this story that isn’t the main point.
David Gates is good at expressing himself. There is no question he can write. I just wish he could write about something else besides these squalid May-December pseudo-romances.