Ever since the publication of The Harmony of the World in 1984, Charles Baxter has slowly gained a reputation as one of America’s finest short-story writers. Each subsequent collection—Through the Safety Net, A Relative Stranger, and Believers—was further confirmation of his mastery: his gift for capturing the immediate moment, for revealing the unexpected in the ordinary, for showing how the smallest shock can pierce the heart of an intimacy.
Gryphon brings together the best of Baxter’s previous collections with seven new stories, giving us the most complete portrait of his achievement.
Baxter once described himself as “a Midwestern writer in a postmodern age”: at home in a terrain best known for its blandness, one that does not give up its secrets easily, whose residents don’t always talk about what’s on their mind, and where something out of the quotidian—some stress, the appearance of a stranger, or a knock on the window—may be all that’s needed to force what lies underneath to the surface and to disclose a surprising impulse, frustration, or desire.
Whether friends or strangers, the characters in Baxter’s stories share a desire—sometimes muted and sometimes fierce—to break through the fragile glass of convention. In the title story, a substitute teacher walks into a new classroom, draws an outsized tree on the blackboard on a whim, and rewards her students by reading their fortunes using a Tarot deck. In each of the stories we see the delicate tension between what we want to believe and what we need to believe.
By turns compassionate, gently humorous, and haunting, Gryphon proves William Maxwell’s assertion that “nobody can touch Charles Baxter in the field that he has carved out for himself.”