When Gabriel’s first story here, ‘Boys Industrial School’, opens, brothers Nate and Donnie are standing in the road, talking with a police officer about a boy who’s run away from juvie in their rural Ohio town. Donnie, 12, and five years Nate’s senior, later claims to know where the runaway is and takes his brother on an hours-long hike to try to find him.
The whole expedition shakes Nate, who nervously picks along behind his brother, amazed at his worldliness and befuddled by his complete lack of fear. Like Nate, we have to tread carefully through Gabriel’s linked stories, because we never really know what’s coming, but it can’t be good. Donnie and Nate eventually find the child and show him the way to their home. But that night, Donnie disappears.
Gabriel connects all of these stories through location, anchoring them to the lone highway and the river that both run through the town of Moraine, Ohio. Though characters sometimes cross over, the themes in the book always do – largely a sense of impending or resonating tragedy, as in the titular novella at the heart of the book. It’s a nuanced and complicated examination of the way grief is contagious, sparking dark emotions in people who initially are barely affected. And like Nate, the reader is tasked with trying to figure it all out.