Books by People I Know: “Your Life Idyllic”

51ON-VUMVVL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgIt was the perfect setup: Craig had an office, and I had an office.

Well, Craig had a real office. Directly across the hall, I shared an office with a bunch of adjuncts. My office was usually empty, so I took the corner desk.

If we leaned back in our chairs, Craig and I could see each other across the narrow corridor. Craig has a quiet intensity. He’s dryly funny. We got along great. We’d shoot conversation across the hall—about writing, about teaching, about whatever. He told me a little about his days in the Navy. (A submarine!) He told me about his years as a dishwasher. I admired his toughness: He commuted to Duquesne University on a racing bike, even in snowstorms, using a pair of welding glasses to protect his eyes against the wind. Now and again we’d describe the things we were working on. The books we really wanted to write. The projects that we’d maybe finish, one day.

And then he finished one: Your Life Idyllic. And then the book won the St. Lawrence Book Award. It surprised me—not because I doubted Craig, but because he had been so quiet about it. Craig has a slow-burn personality. He speaks in a kind of mellow growl. He’s captivating in conversation. You always suspect he knows something he’s not letting on. In this case, it was an entire book.

I loved all these stories, which take place in hard-knock industrial Michigan, where Craig was raised. But there’s one story that has lingered: An old laborer with back problems joins a yoga class, and just as they’re about to start, a celebrity walks in. (Or is it a celebrity?) “Lucky Star” is one of the funniest, weirdest, truest stories I’ve ever read. In the year since I finished this collection, I can scarcely hear the word “yoga” without snickering at the story’s punchline. Much of Your Life Idyllic is about scrap metal and alcoholism, poverty and broken homes, gambling addictions and bygone factories, but it’s also full of surprises.

And every time I spot that book on my shelf, I think, Man, I miss that corridor.

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