‘The Galaxie and Other Rides’ by Josie Sigler
Josie Sigler’s collection of short stories, The Galaxie and Other Rides, turns a close eye on a cast of hard-living characters and the cars that sustain them. These unpredictable stories each feature a car—as either an indirect part of the plot, as in “The Black Box,” or in some more direct way, as in “Woods”—and this nod to these classic cars is also a nod to a dying way of life.
The Galaxie and Other Rides is a collection about class and family and cars. It covers a host of hot-button issues: drugs, addiction, teen moms, HIV, war, the dying automotive industry, prostitution. Sigler manages to make her characters heartfelt and believable, even when their actions might render them irredeemable. While each narrator feels linked, in many ways, to the other narrators, each is also distinct and unpredictable. There’s the junkie mom, the unemployed thief who finds a baby on the side of the road, the daughter of a prostitute, a horse whisperer, the girl who escapes her past only to return and find how impossible it is to truly break free from the place you grew up.
Sigler’s settings, sometimes overt, other times more of a feeling, place the reader in the center of the United States—Middle America. The underlying tone for all these stories is motion: “I remember the wind on my cheeks, the pump of my legs, how time slowed so I could feel each molecule of my body, think on how each atom had value.” One of the most interesting aspects of Sigler’s stories is how cars move us and shape our lives, even when they don’t run properly. In “Woods,” an abandoned El Camino is the site of many girls’ loss of virginity, which is, of course, one of the ways life propels itself. Cars are an escape route, as in “Breakneck Road” (my favorite in the collection), and they are a shackle, quite literally, in “Tether.”
Loss is a big theme in these narratives. Friends, children, brothers, limbs, youth: “Nothing was really familiar. It only seemed I knew those woods. I felt something haunting in my chest, something breaking.” Sigler twines together this idea of loss both literally and metaphorically. The cars she chooses—Chevelle, Comet, Malibu, El Camino—no longer figure into the landscape of the USA, or at least not on any major scale. This might sound strange, but the cars guide the stories, and I think if she had chosen other models—say a GMC Jimmy or a Suburban—she’d have created different stories.
Though there are times when the narration is too opaque—leaving the reader guessing about what the narrator actually means—but for the most part, Sigler’s language is direct and measured out with a poet’s ear: “Spring came in with a rain so steady even the crocuses drowned.” There are also times when the stories hastily speed toward a climax and then abruptly end, leading toward a rushed conclusion.
Overall, The Galaxie and Other Rides is a fine collection of short stories and Sigler’s vivid language brings the characters therein to life. There is no denying the sadness of Sigler’s characters, but there is also, in most of the stories, a glimmer of hope. Definitely worth the trip.
The Galaxie and Other Rides
By Josie Sigler
The Livingston Press
Paperback, 9781604890976, 182 pp.