Tom Drury’s deadpan rendering of the disquieting desperation of small-town lives recalls the edgy psychological realism and poignant pathos of Anton Chekhov, and his unadorned prose line has linked his work to the minimalist experiments of Raymond Carver. Drury was born and raised in Mason City, Iowa, in the heart of the vast midwestern flatness that figures so prominently in his fiction. Although he came of age during the civil unrest generated by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, Drury grew up in the relative quiet of middle America. His father worked for the Great Western Railroad, his mother for People’s Gas and Electric. His childhood was low-keyed and uneventful, thus giving Drury’s fiction its unerring sympathy for the struggle in the quietest lives to find purpose and to affirm the dignity of the self in a decidedly indifferent universe.
Drury earned a journalism degree from the University of Iowa. Although early on he had considered writing fiction, newspaper work offered a more secure future. Upon graduation, he headed east and worked for several years as a reporter for newspapers in both Connecticut and Rhode Island. Wary of the dead-end promise of string reporting, he applied to the graduate Creative Writing Program at Brown University. After completing that degree, Drury began publishing essays and short fiction in, among other places, Ploughshares, Harper’s, The New York Times, and George, gaining the attention of the New York literary community.
A series of stories about residents of fictitious Grouse County, Iowa, that Drury published in The New Yorker provided the basis of his first novel, The End of Vandalism, about a love triangle between a small-time thief, the thief’s ex-wife, and the soft-hearted deputy she eventually marries, who then must endure the stillbirth of their first child. Here, Drury would define many of his critical themes: the fragile hope in the smallest hearts for the promise of purpose; the hunger for the sweet intrusion of love and its inevitable collapse into cool disappointment; the difficult adjustment to the shocking invasion of bad luck; and the hunger among those locked too soon into routine to touch the bracing possibility of adventure. Partly because of its inception as a series of stories, the novel offers less of the sustained action of a traditional novel and more of a series of involving vignettes. These are comic interactions among the large cast of quirky characters Drury creates, much like Garrison Keillor in his Lake Wobegon stories, by deftly revealing behavior in a few memorable strokes. Drury’s style,...
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