>The Imaginary Lives of Mechanical Men, by Randy F. Nelson

Today’s Short Story Month selection is Randy F. Nelson’s collection, The Imaginary Lives of Mechanical Men, which won the Flannery O’Connor Award last year (along with another collection that I’ll be discussing in the coming days). There are themes that link the stories in the collection but I’ve written about that elsewhere and here I want to look at a couple of individual stories.

First is “The Cave” which is told from the point of view of an old woman who was something of a “wild child” at one time and was brought by the Bender family to help rescue one of the Bender boys trapped in a cave. There’s both deep sadness in the story and great humor: “Look,” says Burke, “it ain’t the devil that’s got hold of him. It’s a rock. That’s all.” The rescue effort proceeds and they try everything they can. What appeals to me about the story is that it is told from such a great distance and the narrator is both the girl in the story and the old woman remembering, and Nelson has done a beautiful job of making these two versions of the same person distinct characters.

The other story I want to mention here is “Breaker” set on a shipbreaking island off the coast of Liberia. An American lawyer comes to negotiate the transfer of the island’s business (along with its vast environmental liabilities) to the locals, but the leader won’t let them off the hook so easily. “It is one of the sad and fundamental principles of maritime law that a ship out of water is no longer a ship, but a heap of metal. Like a marriage out of love.” And he proceeds to break the visitor until he no longer knows what’s right.

It’s a strong collection, with some quirkiness that makes it an entertaining read.

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  1. >I saw Randy read at AWP and was really impressed with the voice that he had written that particular story in. Thanks, Cliff, for looking at this collection.


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