Savouring the Short Stories of Father Brother Keeper


Nathan Poole’s Father Brother Keeper is a collection of symbol-rich, superbly crafted short stories set in the harsh landscape of the southern United States—driven, significantly, by the imagery of place. His characters suffer, and their personal hardships—sickness, suicide, dementia, violence, poverty—affect their family relationships.

Like the mounds, fields, and tributaries that surround them, Poole’s characters have mysterious inner lives that other people do not necessarily see or understand. This unknowability is perplexing, and even disturbing—yet for some characters occasions of bewilderment become opportunities for tenderness. In one story, a father is angered by the strange behaviors of his son, which include running naked through the woods. He recognizes in the boy “another side . . . a hemisphere waxed always away from him, an unlit landscape he couldn’t map or reckon with.” After he discovers one of his child’s odd gifts, he finds a way to show his care amidst his bafflement.

These are also stories of revelation. A brother watches the “incandescent movement” of his sister’s dangerous fever and admits, with anxiety and wonder, that “sickness can show you things, things you have acknowledged time and again and yet, in a more mysterious way.” The presence of God is often associated with imagery of physical light. In Poole’s rhythmic, calmly measured prose, even this oft-explored connection is freshly thrilling.

The tranquil intensity of these stories deserves to be savored. This is not a book to mull over in a classroom setting only—it should also be enjoyed on a peaceful stretch of grass or forest, or read aloud to listeners who long to be swept up by an evocatively poetic work. (Banner review)

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