>The Language of Elk, by Benjamin Percy

>More Short Story Month: The Language of Elk by Benjamin Percy is another fine collection, at its strongest when and beast confront one another. The title story is a terrific example.

Pete Foder is the proprietor of Foder Ranch, a hunting paradise where for $5,000 he will guarantee success, no matter how ridiculous the client is. His property has a huge elk population and he releases an old bull elk into the wild now that he’s past his breeding prime. Pete feels for the animal.

“For nearly ten years this has been his life. His beard has faded into a silvery hue, like mine, its golden luster lost. Soon I will have to set him loose. His arthritis prevents the slick application of his manhood and his daughters have become his lovers and for the sake of the quality breeding, I will have to set him loose and then he will find peace before the stare of some suburbanite’s muzzle.”

Complicating Pete’s life is his autistic daughter, whom he loves and fears, and who seems more comfortable communicating with the old bull elk than with Pete. To understand her, Pete has to learn the language of elk.

“Winter’s Trappings” is a story in which another set of males compete. A woman flees her abusive husband, young son in tow. They collide with a buck who flips over the cab into the bed of the pickup. He’s left in the truck overnight and the next morning when the woman’s sister (a powerful woman and a veterinarian) goes to butcher the animal, it turns out that he’s alive and so, instead, she nurses him to health. Meanwhile, the husband shows up, with results that are more or less predictable.

It’s a terrific collection and its being followed soon by a new book. More stories to look forward to. [I enjoy, also, reading the acknowledgements. Percy mentions a number of people familiar to me including Dan Wickett, the prime Short Story Month mover, but also Wyatt Prunty and Cheri Peters of Sewanee, where Percy was a Tennessee Williams scholar a couple of years before I was. There’s hope for me, maybe.]

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