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Stories of Samurai and Stained Glass

Pondering what makes a man

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The stories of Nic Pizzolatto are filled with boys and men engaged (or recalling having once been engaged) in manly pursuits: hanging out at horse races, kayaking and base-jumping, war and whiskey, porn and prostitution, football, fatherhood, and fights. (OK, so one guy makes stained glass windows, but he gets to play with lots of fire.) But within Pizzolatto's new collection, Between Here and the Yellow Sea, are no paeans to pumped pectorals or nostalgic evocations of a mythic manhood before the metrosexual way. Rather, Pizzolatto writes the ambivalent relationships we Gen-XYers have with manhood, and the diffident ways in which we attempt to answer the persistent call of the bearded wild.

A self-styled samurai park ranger, his father slipping away with Alzheimer's, base-jumps from his post at the top of the St. Louis Gateway Arch, the symbol of the span between the civilized New World and the wild frontier. A broken Iraq War vet (once a shot put champion, maybe a war hero, maybe not, now a pawnshop perp) becomes the protector of a battered woman. The widow of a World War I vet attempts to remake a stained glass artist into the soldier, the "real" man, that she lost. A boy from a broken home begins to understand that his father is pathetic; at the horse races, he runs from the idea that "you can tell a horse not just by races he's run, but by how his parents ran, and on and on." Handicapping, his father tells him, "is predicated on the principle that the future will repeat the past."

Pizzolatto, currently writer in residence at UNC-Chapel Hill, was born in New Orleans and raised along the Gulf Coast, where many of these stories are set. His characters are mostly sincere and sensitive men, not fighting off their fathers but rather feeling their absence or insufficiency, wanting but not feeling ... sometimes searching for a connection to manhood that makes some sort of sense to the samurai and stained-glass artists of a gentler generation.

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