In Steven Hayward’s story “Umbrella,” an imprisoned man writes a chronology of how he came to attack his wife and her lover with a hockey stick. The man’s cellmate reads the tale and then complains it “lacks closure.” That same assessment could be applied to some of the stories in Hayward’s own collection – including “Umbrella.”
Now, some readers might prefer to imagine their own endings to Hayward’s stories about fractious relationships, lusty teens, and grieving husbands. After all, the stories are snapshots of lives, not complete biographies. Nevertheless, some of them end far too abruptly. Hayward’s well-crafted prose makes us care about these seemingly ordinary characters and the weird situations they are tossed into. But we are often left to guess at what ultimately befalls them.
Hayward is the author of the novels Don’t Be Afraid and The Secret Mitzvah of Lucio Burke, as well as the story collection Buddha Stevens. Many of the 12 stories in To Dance the Beginning of the World (the title, we are told, is an Elizabethan euphemism for sex) were previously published in literary magazines. In “The Dead Thing,” one of the best entries, a woman spies a strange dead creature on the street. It looks almost human. The woman becomes obsessed with the carcass as her troubled pregnancy progresses. It is a creepy tale, worthy of television’s The Twilight Zone.
“Stark County Baseball,” by contrast, is wickedly funny. An author invited to a small town to read from his latest book is forced, upon arrival, to demonstrate his baseball skills for a malevolent gang of old codgers. Unlike some other pieces, this story has a delightful ending, which only a Canadian could have come up with. Less satisfying are the entries that literally have more words in miniscule footnotes than in the body of the story itself. Such a device might have been fine if used once. But three times? The joke wears thin. So, grab a magnifying glass when tackling the likes of “Aunt Daisy’s Secret Sauce for Hamburgers.”