The closing lines of the Coen Brothers' 2008 comedy Burn After Reading perfectly sum up Close is Fine, a collection of short stories from author Eliot Treichel recently published by Portland, Ore.'s Ooligan Press.
"What did we learn, Palmer?" a military officer asks a subordinate.
"I don't know, sir," he responds.
"I don't fucking know either," he replies.
Pick any story in Treichel's book and it's hard not to have a similar reaction upon reading its final lines--though in the best possible way. Rather than coming off as cynical or nihilistic, the stories Treichel crafts are vividly real, and they end without resolution as life itself often does. The characters simply have to carry on beyond the final page, no wealthier and no wiser for their suffering.
Close is Fine is packed with lyrical, beautifully composed tales about the pecking order of lumberjacks, hopes for winning the lottery, and folks with empty resumes and emptier bank accounts. The characters' lives are lived in grayscale that will one day be easily summarized with boilerplate epitaphs.
While many authors use stories as an opportunity to force change or growth on characters, Treichel takes much the opposite tack, throwing his characters into a tailspin, then leaving them as cluelessly adrift as when the stories start.
A little girl who attempts to save baby mice from her hungry dog sees her efforts fail when her father feeds them to the dog anyway after he thinks she is asleep. A high-school soccer team--so maligned that its members are assaulted in the halls--ends the season with its worst slaughter ever: 20-0. An attempt at an extramarital affair ends with impotence.
The collection is the debut for Treichel, and shows an author exploring the existential frustration that comes with truly grasping how intensely everything matters, even when it adds up to nothing in the end.