The Sunday Oregonian, Janaury 20, 2013
by Anne Saker
Confession here: I am an utter wimp where the macabre is concerned. But the haunting weirdness of Nancy Rommelmann's new collection of stories, "Transportation," still lives with me.
Rommelmann, a well-known Portland voice whose keen-edged writing appears in local publications, including The Oregonian, is just plain daring and courageous in this volume. She dives into some strange pockets of the human soul and swims a line right on the blackest edge of fear, desire and despair. She whips out a dazzling array of techniques and wields them masterfully.
I nearly stopped reading "Transportation" after finishing the first story, "The White Coyote," not because it's bad but because it just freaked me out. The eponymous creature was injected at birth with human DNA, and in its youth appears an interesting freak, something brought to the local elementary school for the kids to gape at.
But time is no friend to this animal. In its dotage, the white coyote looks an awful lot like an old human man, but acts like a beast, flaunting its sexual threat and then carrying it out in a way that left me completely creeped out.
Then I crashed head-on into "X-Girl," about a woman who sexually taunts a man she knows, a butcher by trade. He sends her a blunt warning of how he will punish her teasing. When she ignores the warning, he carries out his promise in a fashion appropriate to his profession. Rommelmann is so good that I got to the end thinking, "I guess I see now how something like that might happen."
"Transportation" doesn't let up. A particularly cunning effort is "Balzek," about an artist who is determined to eat his own body for his next exhibition. "Save Yourself" is a life-after-death fantasy. Then Rommelmann throws in a beautifully cut coming-of-age story, "Tom Moore," that is moody and gray until the last sentence, when the sun bursts through.
It's exciting to see writers like Rommelmann working on the short story because of the discipline the form commands. Digressions are death, and focus must burn on its aim. Brevity commanded Rommelman to carve away the extraneous, and what is left is shocking and amazing. The words she did not write are the most powerful of all.
-- Anne Saker is a former staff writer at The Oregonian