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Story Collection Brings Secrets To The Surface


In an interview, short story writer Charles Baxter explained that, “the short story begins when things start to go wrong.” Elsewhere, he maintained that, “no story can keep a secret. A writer needs to find the secret and bring it to the surface.”

If measured by his own comments, Baxter’s new collection, There’s Something I Want You to Do, is triumphant. Set mostly in Minneapolis along the Mississippi River, the 10 stories are divided into two sections-- one devoted to virtues and the other to vices.

Benny’s and Sarah’s lives are going wrong in “Chastity.” They meet on a bridge traversing the Mississippi River when Sarah is toying with jumping off and Benny pulls her away from the railing. Later, Benny tells his friend Elijah a secret about Sarah. Baxter notes that the secret had become “so bacterial that he had to pass its contagion on to others who might help him bear it. He’d become incapable of carrying it around alone.” As a reader, I wondered if the story would inoculate or infect.

In “Loyalty,” another virtues story, things go very wrong for Corrine and she walks out on her husband Wes and their son Jeremy. Wes remarries and Jeremy gets a new sister. Years later, Corrine suddenly comes back. Secrets surface as each member of the family comes to terms with her intrusive return.

Whether virtuous or full of vice, Charles Baxter’s stories reconcile where our lives go wrong with the secrets we often keep just below the surface.