I didn’t know what to expect when I started the debut short story collection The Man With Eight Pairs of Legs by San Francisco author Leslie Kirk Campbell. One of the blurbs on the front from Anthony Doerr mentioned it was “sexy” and another said it reminded them of Carson McCullers so I was definitely intrigued. After finishing it I can say it delivered on the big promises of the blurbs, which isn’t always the case.
The title story of a double amputee with eight pairs of legs sounds like something that might be either cloying or moralistic but manages to be neither. Like Raymond Carver, Campbell evokes a stark landscape with descriptions that do just enough to give the reader exactly what they need, no more and no less. “Cañon City … was a small, gossiping, high-security town in Colorado’s high desert … boasting thirteen prisons and fifty churches. … (I)ts ten thousand people … governed themselves as they saw fit and thrived on the stories, true or false, they told themselves.”
Other stories in the collection are no less elegant. Campbell gives her characters the utmost respect, from two teenagers on a beach in LA to an abused housewife, they all are anointed with the poetry of her writing. My favorite in the collection is Thunder in Illinois, where a married couple of many years play one last card game. The husband and wife are caught in a game of their own making with this bittersweet tale of marital woes. I was reminded of writers like Annie Proulx and Ann Pachett and look forward to Campbell’s first novel.