August 3, 2020: “Where We Land” by Daryl Farmer

Monday’s here, Story366, and so are you.

Today was a good day because I woke up and turned my grades in. The bad part of that was, I didn’t get to bed until three a.m., finishing up one class and mostly finishing another, all on top of yesterday‘s post. I only had about an hour of work to do this morning, though, just the actual calculations of grades, and then turning them into the system. Then I was done. That means today is the first day that I had no teaching to do since spring break; granted, that spring break was two—or was it three?—weeks long, COVID making us all step back and figure out what to do.  Because I taught summer and intersession, no actual time was in-between, and I’ve been feeling it. I like teaching, but this has been a bit of a challenge, not being able to take a breather, to clear my mind. I get to do that for two weeks starting today, before the fall semester starts. I’ll have to do a lot of planning for fall—contingencies on top of contingencies—but that’s okay, as I’m not going to even look at Blackboard for at least a week. And to think, if I would have been organized and ambitious, I could have taught this intersession, too, starting today, a two-week sprint that might have killed me. I just thank whatever I was doing the day that application was due, whatever made me miss the deadline and give me this time.

Daryl Farmer‘s collection, Where We Land, is today’s featured book, a book out in 2016 from Brighthorse Books. I’ve read some of Farmer’s work before, scattered about lit mags, but it’s always good to get someone’s whole book, their debut, to see their stories together. Today is of course no exception, so here we go, some Daryl Farmer.

“Glass Fragments on the Shoulder of Highway 35” is the first story I read, from the middle of the book, and is sort of a stream-of-consciousness exploration into one man’s love affair with a woman, as well as his obsession with bears and bear attacks. The story jumps all over the place, in time, across America, and within this guy’s head as he navigates his pontifications and some genuine heartbreak. The story’s also told in second person, and that particular effect seems to fit this story well.

“Anniversary” is a one-sentence, seven-page story about a guy on his sixtieth anniversary, having just lost his wife the previous spring. We see his heartbreak—there’s that word again—as we trace his relationship from its inception, through marriage, through the loss of a child, through their golden years, and then his widowerdom, which isn’t going all that well, being alone after having someone all those years.

The last story in the collection is the title story, “Where We Land,” and is my favorite. This one’s about Mitchell Jensen, a former NFL quarterback who’s settled in Alaska. He was never much of a pro, and in fact, was a third-stringer who played exactly one play in the NFL (a five-yard loss). Still, he had been a college star at a tiny school, made just over a million dollars, and was able to buy a place in Colorado and another in Alaska with his earnings, retire in his late twenties. He’s an affable, humble guy, too, traits that Farmer weaves throughout his characterization, a disposition that makes him so likeable and this story very, very readable.

With him in Alaska is Buddha, his former right tackle from college, a big Samoan who actually got to Alaska first, drew him there. The two sit on Mitchell’s houseboat—his third property—fishing and drinking beer. It’s not a bad life.

One thing that’s not perfect is the love life, Mitchell and Buddha both maneuvering some vicarious situations. Mitchell is involved with Renita, a local tour guide who leads llama treks into the wilderness. Renita is a tough one to figure out, we discover. When she and Mitchell met, she was not impressed by his status as a former pro QB, immediately noting that she’d dated a U.S. Senator, wanting nothing to do with someone who thinks she’ll be infatuated. It takes a while for her to take to him, agreeing to see him again only after he goes on one of her treks, and only if he doesn’t call it a date. They spend time together, doing date-like stuff, but Renita keeps him at arm’s length, much to his chagrin.

There’s another subplot on top of all this, what kind of explains how Mitchell got to Alaska. There’s a longstanding riff between him and his father, Mitchell giving up on his pro  career long before Dad wanted him to be done. This led to words, which led to a brawl, then Mitchell moving as far away in the U.S. as he could, going from Florida to Alaska, forgetting to charge his phone for months at a time.

There really isn’t any rising action, climax, or much of a plot to “Where We Land,” as the story isn’t headed anywhere, no big reunion with Dad, no grand romantic gesture with Renita. This story is all about setting, attitude, and character, Mitchell just fine on the sidelines, enjoying the view, only slightly less than content that he may never get his chance, may never really shine. It’s so enjoyable to read, though, to get to know Mitchell, to see the world from his eyes.

Reading the stories in Daryl Farmer’s Where We Land was time well spent today, Farmer knowing his way around a story, knowing a bevy of ways to depict heartbreak, how men are tortured by what they can’t have, what they’ve lost. These stories—pretty much all set  in cold places like Alaska and Sault Ste. Marie—reflect a kind of loneliness, one at which Farmer seems rather adept.

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