In his book of short stories, Nebraska Stories, Ron Hansen portrays vignettes of the simpler times with his succinct observational style of writing. Moving from romantic rendezvous to criminal acts and everything in between, Hansen uses the many different sides of the state, the country, and the world as a backdrop for his character studies.
He begins by sharing tales of those who survived through the blizzard of 1888. Next he tells of a massive amusement park raised out of the prairie, where a couple spends the day dazzled by the sights and each other. Another, The Killers, traces the ill-fated paths of strangers who come into contact through violent means.
A thief contemplates his lonely business with his newly stolen dog while on the lam in a cabin in the woods, going so far as to don her with earrings and a necklace to try to uncover a life unknown to him, and a family man tries to write a science fiction story about an alien abduction and his dismal existence on Earth, but struggles to come up with a point to the tale.
After stories that don’t stray from reality, Hansen moves into the world of magical realism. One concerns a tale from the Vietnam War, titled The Bogeyman, about a terrifying squadron commander and a blundering corporal. Hexes and witchcraft appear to be in use, but cannot be separated from the horrors of war. Another tells of a scaled creature mutilating cattle on a Nebraska farm. But despite the wild happenings, Hansen still focuses each story on the people involved, their relationships and unspoken thoughts.
The final titular story gives flashes of depictions of one of many small Nebraska towns, tracing it through a year and the various colors that accompany the seasons and characters that inhabit it. It could be any town, and its uniqueness is common to them all. Hansen strides the line between boring small town and everyday intrigue. “Everyone is famous in this town. And everyone is necessary.”
Hansen’s straightforward writing style and vivid imagery act like snapshots of bygone days, capturing stories fraught with intricate characters though we never get a glimpse inside their heads. Much like an old picture, we are forced to use the details of the story and the plain, minimal dialogue to see into the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life as they navigate the landscape, but even more so each other.
Nebraska Stories is available at Bellevue University Library, located in the general collection. All books can be borrowed for 21 days with the option of renewal.