In his first collection of short fiction, Bill Barich gives us cause to celebrate a prose stylist who can gracefully cross the boundaries of genre. As stated by Anne Tyler, Hard to Be Good is so large and complete that you tend to look up at the end and find yourself surprised that it’s still the same day.
Set in the American West, as are three other of the seven stories in this book, it is about the unselfconscious struggle for wholeness in a divided family. Its adolescent protagonist moves from innocence to experience in the course of a summer vacation with his mother and her third husband, and the result is satisfying, rather than harrowing.
The attempt to make signification relationships cohere, to weather the transformation of innocence, informs all the stories in this book, and in Barich’s worlds the outcome is often good—knowledge does not always lead to hopelessness. Highly disparate mothers covering on a couple in Idaho Falls (“Where the Mountains Are”) have much to teach and learn, a nineteen-year-old American studying in Florence accepts the surprising human complications of an outsider’s great pensione adventure (“Caravaggio”) . . . and that’s just a few of Barich’s brilliant stories.
Hard to Be Good is a book of real feeling, breadth, and narrative movement. As Frederick Exley wrote, “Barich is a splendidly gifted writer.”
Skyhorse Publishing, as well as our Arcade, Yucca, and Good Books imprints, are proud to publish a broad range of books for readers interested in fiction—novels, novellas, political and medical thrillers, comedy, satire, historical fiction, romance, erotic and love stories, mystery, classic literature, folklore and mythology, literary classics including Shakespeare, Dumas, Wilde, Cather, and much more. While not every title we publish becomes a New York Times bestseller or a national bestseller, we are committed to books on subjects that are sometimes overlooked and to authors whose work might not otherwise find a home.
Barrich's first collection of seven short stories, which takes a look at the lofty standards people set for themselves, is not just good, but very good. The title narrative introduces Shane, a teenager spending a vacation with his ex-hippie mother and her third husband. Trying hard to behave, Shane nevertheless seems propelled, almost by fate, to end up in the local jail. In "The Guest,'' the behavior question is seen from another viewpoint. The owner of a small Italian guesthouse calls it ``a victory for the forces of order'' when he evicts an unruly guest. As time passes, however, he finds he misses the friendly chaos the man's annual visits brought. Barich (Traveling Light) has a rare ability to create quirky, likable characters with a few deft strokes. That, and the fact that his short stories are complete, compelling narratives in which problems proceed forward resolutions, make this collection especially appealing.