I met Richard Schmidt at a literary conference in Ukiah, CA a couple of months ago. We were marketing our books side-by-side, and since there wasn’t much traffic, we chatted a bit. Enough to discover he grew up in Richmond, CA’s Iron Triangle, an area, then as now, as badass as any in the country. And he survived. And prospered. Then, rather late in life, he started writing. I’m glad he did, and I know you’ll agree.
Single Tree presents me with a dilemma only a few short story collections do: Choosing a favorite.
Maybe “Mother’s Day,” in which a fellow slips out of bed on the simple errand of picking a mother’s day bouquet for his sleeping wife, then gets distracted into trying to fix this and that and ends up wet and dirty and a bit bloody in the process. That one is not only rich in Schmidt’s characteristic comedy, but illustrative of his power to convey character and emotion by recounting actions and reactions rather than indulging in extensive descriptions of a person’s inner life.
Or maybe “Broken,” wherein guilt over a childhood accident haunts a man, with crippling consequences for body and soul for decades. Here you find exemplified Schmidt’s power to explore the tender side of grief and redemption.
“The Writer” wouldn’t be a bad choice for me, an exciting tale in what the literati call post-modern style, since it’s a story about writing a story, and I can identify with the process.
You certainly couldn’t go wrong with the title story, about a powerful Indian mystic event and totem that gets passed down through generations, then gets distorted by greed and alcohol. That’s the beginning. The rest is too exciting for a reviewer to reveal. You need to read it yourself.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s a wealth of good reading here, and it’s great fun to figure out which story you like best. Or maybe it’s a waste of time and you should just read ’em all and love ’em all and thank Richard Schmidt for a rich variety of experiences.