This powerful debut collection, set in the light-filled deserts of Nevada and Arizona, introduces a darkly inventive new voice. Like an early Richard Ford, Don Waters writes with skill, empathy, and an edgy wit of worlds not often celebrated in contemporary literature. In Desert Gothic, Waters unleashes a wild and gritty cast and points them down paths of reckoning, where the characters earn the grace of their hard-won wisdom.
Set in bars, mortuaries, nursing homes, truck stops, and the “poverty motels that encircled downtown’s casino corridor,” Waters’s ten stories are full of misfit transients like Julian, a crematorium worker who decorates abandoned urns to create a “lush underground island,” and the instant Mormon missionary Eli, a hapless divorcé who “always likes people better when they’re a little broken.”
Limo drivers, ultra-marathoners, vagabonds, and a distraught novelist-to-be populate the pages of these gritty stories.
"In this remarkable collection of stories, Don Waters presents ten lives that epitomize the journey toward volition in the face of frustration, absurdity and, realistically or metaphorically, the Nevada desert landscape itself."—The Virginia Quarterly Review
“Here are ten beautifully rendered worlds, ten opportunities for the reader to be transformed. You’ll want to own a ﬁrst edition of Desert Gothic. It will only go up in value as Don Waters’s career soars. He’s the real deal.”—John McNally, author, The Book of Ralph and America’s Report Card
“Don Waters writes with an uncompromising eye about the slyly grim yet fascinating journeys of characters who long ago decided they’ve had enough of second chances. They hold on at the sunburnt edges of Nevada and Arizona, somewhere just beyond the madness of tract home boomtowns and senior citizen communities merely waiting rooms for death, out there just barely still in range of the tinny noise of casinos. In Waters’s splendid stories, these are the last places left where they can grip, fast, to the persevering essences of humanity.”—Douglas Unger, author, Leaving the Land and Looking for War and Other Stories
“Don Waters locates the decency in the undersung. He does a brilliant job of showing the small heroic acts that reverberate in the lives of his characters and in the mind of a reader. The stories are very much of the moment: a man helps workers across the Mexican border into the United States; another makes monthly trips to Mexico to buy cut-rate prescription drugs for the elderly. But there is nothing slickly trendy about these stories, rather an understanding of life in this region and, as Stephen Dobyns wrote, ‘how to like it.’”—Amy Hempel, author, The Collected Stories
“The prose in this wonderful collection of stories is as sneaky as the landscape it depicts. It is also as harsh and as beautiful. The characters here are weird and remarkably drawn. I read these stories with much pleasure.”—Percival Everett
“Desert Gothic is a brilliant book. On this guided tour of the American southwest—think of a buzzed and sunburned Virgil in shades, blue jeans, boots that kicked a man nearly to death—Don Waters takes us through heaven and hell and most of the stops in between, and does it with an abiding compassion for his people which does not, however, keep bad things from happening to them. Desert Gothic is a trip—in as many senses of the word as you care to infer—and marks the debut of a powerful young writer with much to say and the literary chops to make it stick.”—Ben Fountain, author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara