I spent a delightful few days in the different worlds Nick Healy has crafted in his debut short-story collection, It Takes You Over.
In all of the stories, Healy dares to explore the hidden secrets housed beneath the surface of seemingly ordinary Midwesterners. The secrets range from a man’s visit to a prostitute; a woman unraveling the mystery of her sister’s tragic, short life; a Capitol staffer’s affair with a co-worker; and a daughter hiding the truth about her father’s dealings from the IRS. Sometimes the hidden world resides only in the narrator’s mind: What if I had done things differently? How can I live up to someone else’s expectations? Am I a good person?
The stories strike me as so true. Everyone struggles with something, and Healy exposes those universal struggles that are in all of us.
Healy’s journalism background shines through in that it’s clear he’s an adept observer of the human condition. I can picture him quietly watching a stranger in a coffee shop and imagining the person’s story in exquisite detail. He incorporates real-life people and events, such as railroad magnate James J. Hill and the Armistice Day blizzard of 1940s, into a couple of stories.
Healy writes from different points of view: a young man, an elderly man, a grandmother, a suburban housewife. He’s able to inhabit all personas with equal believability.
Some of the stories moved me to tears. My heart broke when reading about the young uncle who tries the best he knows how to be a role model to his young, fatherless nephew. One line in “Squirt” really got me: “I lifted him up, put one hand under his tailbone, and launched him skyward the way I’d seen my brother do a hundred times in this very lake on days just like this but like we’d never have again.”
Many of the stories feature people just trying to do their best. You can’t help but to root for them in all their goodness and faults. Even though a certain darkness pervades the characters’ circumstances, there’s hope, often in the form of young love, men and women exploring the exciting territory of new bodies.
Minnesotans will delight at reading about familiar landmarks: St. Paul streets, small-town landscapes, the ubiquitous lake cabin. Precise descriptions capture the essence of Minnesota weather: “Cold air whooshed earthward, and the season seemed to change in a lone mighty gust.” Healy sets the stories in places he knows well, but these are by no means uniquely Minnesotan stories.
Short-story collections are infamously difficult to sell, especially for first-time authors. I’ve never understood this, as short stories have such a rich history in our culture and are easy to digest in this time-crunched world. When put together in a brilliant way as in It Takes You Over, I wonder why more publishers do not rush to put out such fine pieces of writing. Thank goodness Healy finally got his chance. Healy is like one of his characters—just trying to do his best. But while some of his characters fall short in that effort, Healy never does. If his best is yet to come, readers are in for a real treat.