Over the Pass and Other Stories by Susan Mary Malone. Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.
You can tell from the get go that this author is a native Texan. It ebbs from her stories like a hot wind in hell blowing across east Texas. This is indeed good news, as Over the Pass and Other Stories is better than a good bowl of panhandle chili (without the side effects). The leads in these tales are tough, hard-working, home-grown people from Texas, Montana, and Kansas.
The first story (Winter’s Prey) describes the feelings of Julie, as she poses before her sculpture husband Troy. “She is naked – not under his hands but before his stare.” Descent follows Julie and Troy on a trip through Montana. Over the Pass continues glimpses into their relationship with Julie realizing. “On a backroad byway between Idaho and Montana, through the Red Rocks Wildlife Refuge, I lost the feeling. My heart got out and took a hike and we were another day down the road before I realized it was gone.”
Other stories in this collection include a rodeo cowboy (The Demon On the End of the Rope); a father and son feeding wrestlers at a yearly retreat (Red Turns to Green); and Foster and Callie, who are in a long distance relationship, reluctantly attending a wedding officiated by Pastor Brown.
Some of my favorite lines are from Cowboys Over Ladies, when old Jim tells Sara, who he’s mentored for over 20 years, “You’re a achin’ for home.” He’d nick his chest with a gnarled fist. “That place inside ya. The one you boxed away a long time ago. So you put the nostalgia on like a blanket of a mornin’ to keep out the chill.” Another is from Two Hundred Miles to Dumas, “Mom glared hard at her, all the crow’s feet tying up around her eyes and making her look more ancient than Grandma, who was older than west Texas dirt.”
Ms. Malone’s understanding, and description, of place and people is spot on – tough, beautiful, barren, and spacious. Every story stands on its own, even though the first three have the same characters. Over the Pass and Other Stories will remind you of folks you know if you grew up in that area of the world, or make you think you’re one of the family, even if you’ve never stepped foot in that part of the country. These stories will stick to you like sweat inside a Texan’s jeans.