Way Cities Feel To Us Now, The, By Nathaniel Kennon Perkins, 155 pgs.

This is Nathaniel Kennon Perkins’s first collection of short stories. The book has twenty-two tales, and the majority of them find characters living in the present-day West and Southwest United States. The Way Cities Feel to Us Now is an exploration of what it’s like to be a slacker punk in the desert and mountain states, when there are long periods of time between where you are and where you want to be.

That said, driving plays a big role in these pages. It wasn’t surprising that the influences of Jack Kerouac and Al Burian appear, but often (and especially so in the longer short stories) with a narrative scripted more akin to works by Andre Dubus II. Characters in these stories are looking for answers while trying to find themselves, trying to find drugs, and trying to find their next lay. There’s not a sense of nihilism or hopelessness, just an aspiration for some sense to be made of life. (For some characters this is done in the shadow of Mormonism, which isn’t surprising given the effect it has on those living in Utah and neighboring mountain states.) But until life can make sense, there is drinking, smoking cigarettes, and fighting to be had.

I enjoyed a number of tales, primarily the longer ones. My favorites were: “Pyramid Blues,” a tale of road tripping around the American Southwest; “The Preacher Waylon Jennings,” a case of mistaken identity; “Los huevos del Señor,” a tale of Mormon missionaries in Latin America, and “House Party,” about a brother who disappears from the narrator’s life, only to return years later.

The very short stories—those under five pages—either need to be fleshed out or shouldn’t have been placed in with the rest of the tales to begin with. When the work is strong, Perkins writes very well and it’s captivating. But with the shorter tales, I wanted more. I wanted to see a point or a deeper emotional connection between characters. Often times I felt I was getting an emotional outburst instead of the insightful content that provide meaningful, reflective tales.

Short story collections have always been hit or miss for me. But I felt the amount of interesting, thought-provoking material in The Way Cities Feel to Us Now far outweighs any concerns I may have with the shorter pieces. If anything, I hope they serve as foundations upon which another collection of short stories can be written. –Kurt Morris (Muadlin House, thewaycitiesfeeltousnow.maudlinhouse.net)