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This compilation of short stories by Eugene Cross is published by Dzanc Books. Mr. Cross was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania. He writes what he knows. His characters are real people, as you might find in Richard Russo’s works. The writing is clean, the stories are varied and they subtly move as the characters and plot develop. In the “Harvesters” you can feel the desolation,loneliness and stark human need as if captured in a Wyeth painting. “This Too” is a writing lesson in emotional pitch captured in two and a half pages.

Some of the stories seem drawn from his Erie locale. I hope that he many more stories and a novel in him.

As this was his first published book I was drawn to the Acknowledgments. I first thought the editor may have cleaned it up. To his friends at a number of writing programs he acknowledged that they are “gentlemen-scholars and the finest group of cronies a fella could ask for.” One of his teachers is the “toughest son of a gun I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.” I kept thinking Andy Griffith and Opie.

I went to college with two guys from Erie. The first Denny was from a rural town just outside of Erie. For those of us from metropolitan areas he was a hayseed. He was a science major in a school that was not known for science. A relatively big guy, his innocence could be dangerous. Every night he would call his hometown girlfriend to be sure she was at home and not going out with anyone. He was a virgin and had no knowledge of sex. We would ask him if he ever did Seaford or Wantagh, two towns in New York, with his girl friend. He had.
One night his girl friend did not answer the phone. Denny was furious. He packed up all of the belongings in his room, put them on his back and left in his muscle car. He never returned to school.

At the opposite end of the spectrum was Jim. He was a very good-looking guy who was also really nice. Girls would fall all over him, but he was shy and disinterested. He came from a wealthy family in Erie and I suspect he may have lived in one of the upscale neighborhoods that Mr. Gross refers to in one of his stories. He mostly played basketball in the gym. Only about 5’8″ he had great skills. He could in mid-air with 6’4″ defenders around him, dribble the lane, pass the ball under one leg, then the other and lay it in with his left hand. He was given a nickname that described his good looks. In sophomore year he hooked up with a girl. After that the smile was still the same, but the innocence disappeared.

These were real people with real stories. Like the characters in Mr. Gross’ stories you know them. Mr. Gross also has a story. He dedicated the book to his Dad, who believed in him. He was pre-med, but he wanted to write. He struggled as do most writers of short stories. Dzanc Books, a publisher which encourages new writers, had a contest. It was not just for writing, but for writing and social action. Mr. Gross tutored people from Nepal and other countries in Erie. He was notified that his social action would earn him the prize, but had to wait to know if his writing would as well. He was award the 2009 Dzanc Prize. He know teaches at Northwestern University.

Dzanc has a number of imprints. You should check them out, read this book and await Mr. Gross’ next book.