“Nathan Ballingrud’s “The Way Station” is another story of the sort I’ve come to expect from him: emotionally intense, riveting, and deeply upsetting in many ways. It deals with loss, with the aftereffects of Katrina on a homeless alcoholic who’s haunted by the city itself before the flood, and in doing so it’s wrenching. The strangeness of the haunting—city streets in his chest, floodwater pouring from his body—creates a surreal air, but the harsh reality of the world the protagonist lives in anchors that potential for the surreal into something more solid and believable. It’s an excellent story that paints a riveting portrait of a man, his city, and his loss.”
Dave, at Hellnotes, has this to say:
“An expert example of embracing the theme of the collection, is “The Way Station” by Nathan Ballingrud. Alternating between the cities of St. Petersburg, Florida, and New Orleans, Ballingrud looks to the latter as ghostly inspiration. Beltrane is a former inhabitant of that tortured city, and literally carries its woes within him. Now haunted and homeless in Florida, the disenfranchised African American remains at loony loose ends. The reality of his world is allegorical and ambiguous: “A small city has sprouted from the ground in the night, where he’d been sleeping, surrounded by blowing detritus and stagnant filth. It spreads across the puddle-strewn pavement and grows up the side of the wall, twinkling in the deep blue hours of the morning, like some gorgeous fungus, awash in a blustery evening rain. It exudes a sweet, necrotic stink. He’s transfixed by it, and the distant wails he hears rising from it are a brutal, beautiful lullaby.” Tinged with poignant pathos, “The Way Station” exemplifies the lingering horrors of the souvenirs of loss.”
Thanks, Brit. Thanks, Dave.