ALL I HAVE IN THIS WORLD. By Michael Parker. Algonquin Books. 311 pages. $24.95.
Whether you will like this quirky, captivating writer might just come down to a passage like this: “Small beauty is bountiful. It blooms and spreads. Such deep inner sweetness as Randy possessed transcends scales. The town is small and it, too, is beautiful. Nature might have prescribed its smallness by positioning it behind a ridge of granite and on the other side high, grassy pasture and desert, but it was Maria’s perception of it now that truly cherished its smallness.”
The passage is either a heartful or a headful and it’s really up to the reader to pick.
“All I Have in This World” opens as a sequence of apparently unrelated short stories that coalesce to become three tales about Maria returning home to face her tiny Texas community, and her guilt and grief over a teenage boyfriend who killed himself; Marcus, a ne’er-do-well dreamer who hits the road after his latest misadventure; and a 1984 Buick Electra told through the people who own it before it ends up in a Texas used car lot.
Where Maria and Marcus both want to buy it.
Parker keeps the tale(s) winding along with piquancy and presage: At one point, Marcus sees the car on the road, well before walking into that car lot.
The car lot moment, though, is the crux. Whether you fall for this story might just come down to whether you find yourself falling for the odd chemistry Parker develops between two strangers competing to buy that Buick:
“Without even looking his way again, Maria said to the man on the other side of the car, ‘Excuse me, do you happen to know — I mean, I’m sorry to bother you, but is this a good car?’
“ ‘Looks decent from the outside,’ he said.
“ ‘Will you test-drive it for me?’ she asked.”
If you do, what becomes of Maria, Marcus and the Buick is as quirky as the tale(s) itself.
Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.