Western Electric

Winner of the 1996 John Simmons Short Fiction Award

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142 pp

“As a collection,Western Electric generates its necessary power as much from Don Zancanella's affection for his landscape as from the wide wildness of the hinterlands, those crossroads where we've no place to hide from the weather and the weal and the woe of us. This is a book where history, both the lived and the imagined, is as close and as foreign as a neighbor. There's current here, hot and dangerous and vital.”—Lee Abbot

“[Zancanella] brings together eight stories set in the West, predominantly in Wyoming. As unadorned as the western plains, these tales feature some distinctive characters described in functional, no-frills prose…An earnest debut.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Cumulatively, the eight stories in this exceptionally cohesive first collection feel novelistic in scope and scale…As the title suggests, the incursion of technology into the West—the world's inexorable reeling in of its open spaces—is the theme that unites this polished collection.”—Publishers Weekly

All eight of Don Zancanella's wry, pristinely written stories have memorable settings in the historical or contemporary American West, ranging from love among abandoned missile silos to a tale of Laotian refugees in Wyoming to an account of a traveling chimpanzee show. Collectively they form a kind of alternative history of this too-often-stereotyped region.

Some of the stories take as their theme the coming of technology to the western wilderness—television, telephones, telescopes, missiles, even an imaginative account of a visit by inventor Thomas Edison to the Rocky Mountains. Others focus on small-town intolerance, calling into question the myth of individualism and heroic self-reliance set forth in Hollywood.

There is a vivid strain of the fantastic in these stories, a beguiling, offbeat quality that links them. However, despite some extraordinary events and quirky exteriors, most of the characters are typical of the kind of people one might meet in small towns anywhere—schoolteachers, career soldiers, Native American teenagers, telephone line workers, ranchers, cooks, wagon masters. Almost all of them have very mixed feelings about the time and place in which they find themselves. For them the West is not a promised land but a place they have to make the best of. It is these human copings that unite Zancanella's prize-winning collection.