Curtain Creek Farm
linked short stories

From Publishers Weekly
An anarchist commune in Washington State, founded in the '60s, survived the disenchantments of the next decades, but its idealistic inhabitants are shaken when one of their longtime members, Lila, dies of cancer at age 50. Poet and fiction writer Van Winckel's (After a Spell; Quake) collection of eight interconnected stories tenderly and honestly describes the joys, compromises, dreams and hard realities of the farm, "a world away from the world." In truth, a generation after the farm's inception, the collective collides with the outside world more often than not. Lila's herpetologist son, Russell, is seriously enamored of Lila's friend, Geneva, in "The Lap of Luxury." In "Making Headway," Roxanne gives Geneva deep-tissue massages, and knows that her back problems stem from being "spooked by love"; that is, she's afraid to accept Russell's devotion, because he's 15 years her junior. Roxanne's husband is long gone, prompting advances from Frito, a nomadic Web designer. The children of the community poignantly respond to Lila's death by organizing mock funerals for kittens, possums and other animals, even staging one for a four-year-old playmate ("The Land of Anarchy"). This ceremony is interrupted by the appearance of a cougar, one moment of many where Van Winckel's canny symbolism satisfyingly vexes the distinction between nature and culture. The children, meanwhile, demarcate the thin line between the commune's stubbornly radical vision and its inescapable participation in various social constructs. In the final story, "Treat Me Nice," this division is beautifully transcended. Francine, a nurse, encounters an Elvis imitator with a mysterious injury, whom she marries on the farm. At the wedding, 12 other Elvis imitators, singing "All Shook Up," parachute to earth from a plane high above. The narrative is chock-full of surprising images like this one, as Van Winckel merges popular culture and utopian lifestyles with rosy, generous vision.


Excerpt, from the story “Immunity”


“Okay,” my mother said as I was tying my sneakers this morning, “let’s go over the words you’re not going to say at Ivy’s house."

“Fuck,” I said. “Shit.”

“Good.” My mother nodded and put a sandwich in my backpack.

“Asshole. Piss-brain.”

“Excellent, sweetie.” She took a lumpy, hand-rolled cigarette from her shirt pocket and held it in the air--her baton.

Seeing the yellow school bus swirl dust up the road, I rattled off the rest of the words in a hurry, my mother beating time with the yellow cigarette to each one. Then she brushed my cheek with her hand. “Nicely done, Marnie.”

For dinner at Ivy’s house--we’re eating a dish her mother calls Chicken Divan--I don’t let slip a single one of the words. Ivy’s brother Randall makes car engine sounds as he forks up green beans mixed with red things--pimentos, Ivy tells me.

After we’ve cleared the table, we go upstairs to Ivy’s mother’s private bathroom, where Ivy gives me a makeover. I sit on a white-cushioned stool while she plugs in a curling wand and hot rollers.

“Okay, first mousse.” She shakes a silver canister, and as she does, she squinches her mouth and eyes into an expression of disgust. Into her palm she squirts a white mound of foam that puffs out like a frog’s bulging throat. Ivy’s read magazines. She’s studied these things. She wears her hair a different way every day. She has barrettes and clips that part and twist its shining black mass, making waves, ridges.

Later, in Ivy’s bed, she fans my hair out on a silky pink pillowcase. “All right,” she says, “you be Wade Brooker for a minute and I’ll show you. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Ivy leans her face close to me. Her hair brushes my cheek. “Just. Like. This.” She puts her lips on mine.

My eyes are open, but Ivy’s are closed. She’s off in a long-gone dream of Wade Brooker in which some entirely other version of me plays the starring role. She snuggles closer and presses harder against my mouth.

My hand pats her shoulder. I’ve done this kissing thing before so I’m less susceptible. And besides, I know how it’s supposed to go.

Gently, sweetly, I push Ivy away. “Quit it, Ivy.”

“All right, you be me then, and I’ll be Brooker.” She lies on her side and smiles at me happily. “Okay, Marnie?”

“No.” I cross my arms on my chest. “This is stupid.”

Ivy flops onto her back, sighs heavily.

“He’ll never love you in a million years,” I say and pull the covers up to my chin. It’s such a pressure on my patience to be sweet all the time.

“Okay,” my mother said as I was tying my sneakers this morning, “let’s go over the words you’re not going to say at Ivy’s house."

“Fuck,” I said. “Shit.”

“Good.” My mother nodded and put a sandwich in my backpack.

“Asshole. Piss-brain.”

“Excellent, sweetie.” She took a lumpy, hand-rolled cigarette from her shirt pocket and held it in the air--her baton.

Seeing the yellow school bus swirl dust up the road, I rattled off the rest of the words in a hurry, my mother beating time with the yellow cigarette to each one. Then she brushed my cheek with her hand. “Nicely done, Marnie.”

For dinner at Ivy’s house--we’re eating a dish her mother calls Chicken Divan--I don’t let slip a single one of the words. Ivy’s brother Randall makes car engine sounds as he forks up green beans mixed with red things--pimentos, Ivy tells me.

After we’ve cleared the table, we go upstairs to Ivy’s mother’s private bathroom, where Ivy gives me a makeover. I sit on a white-cushioned stool while she plugs in a curling wand and hot rollers.

“Okay, first mousse.” She shakes a silver canister, and as she does, she squinches her mouth and eyes into an expression of disgust. Into her palm she squirts a white mound of foam that puffs out like a frog’s bulging throat. Ivy’s read magazines. She’s studied these things. She wears her hair a different way every day. She has barrettes and clips that part and twist its shining black mass, making waves, ridges.

Later, in Ivy’s bed, she fans my hair out on a silky pink pillowcase. “All right,” she says, “you be Wade Brooker for a minute and I’ll show you. I’ll show you how it’s done.” Ivy leans her face close to me. Her hair brushes my cheek. “Just. Like. This.” She puts her lips on mine.

My eyes are open, but Ivy’s are closed. She’s off in a long-gone dream of Wade Brooker in which some entirely other version of me plays the starring role. She snuggles closer and presses harder against my mouth.

My hand pats her shoulder. I’ve done this kissing thing before so I’m less susceptible. And besides, I know how it’s supposed to go.

Gently, sweetly, I push Ivy away. “Quit it, Ivy.”

“All right, you be me then, and I’ll be Brooker.” She lies on her side and smiles at me happily. “Okay, Marnie?”

“No.” I cross my arms on my chest. “This is stupid.”

Ivy flops onto her back, sighs heavily.

“He’ll never love you in a million years,” I say and pull the covers up to my chin. It’s such a pressure on my patience to be sweet all the time.

Nance's newest poetry book is OUR FOREIGNER

Fiction
"Nance Van Winckel has long been one of my favorite poets—a voice I turn to again and again for imagery and music and to remind me of the loveliness and intensity of the subtle narrative woven into the subtle lyric. Pacific Walkers shows her at the peak of her powers. It is a riveting book, accumulating in strangeness and fearsome magic as it moves through the mysteries of existence and mortality." —Laura Kasischke
OTHER BOOKS OF POEMS
"The poems of NO STARLING project life through a strange, wonderful prism, part heavily refracting language, part heady, playful imagination. Nothing is stranger than what is true to life. Nothing is more necessary." —THE CINCINNATI REVIEW
SAMPLE POEM
received the Friends of Literature Award from POETRY MAGAZINE.
BOOKS OF FICTION
Linked stories, each told by a resident of a commune in Eastern Washington.