'Strange Little Punk Odes'

stories explore emotional turmoil of Midwestern youth

Eric Rasmussen, photos by Kelsey Smith

FRESH INK. Eau Claire author Grant Maierhofer’s latest work is a short story collection, Marcel.
FRESH INK. Eau Claire author Grant Maierhofer’s latest work is a short story collection, Marcel.

In his short story collection Marcel, Eau Claire native Grant Maierhofer crafts a line that skillfully sums up the relationship between late teen/early twenty-something locals and their hometowns: “The sky was miserable and blue.” No matter how attractive the city, no matter how blue the sky, growing up means separating, which almost requires us to detest the places where we grew up. For Maierhofer, that meant finding a local counter-culture, which led to his writing, which will soon lead to an advanced degree and a career in literature and teaching. According to Maierhofer, “The constant that got me through much of it would’ve been Nate’s Dungeon”  – a popular basement venue for punk rock shows –  “or friends who were into punk rock, and thus an angsty outlook felt like my first real foray into anything like art or serious thought.”

There is a reason why Maierhofer’s pieces on common themes found a publisher. He experiments with form and perspective, and many of the pieces are closer to character sketches than traditionally plotted stories.

Maierhofer’s collection is a diverse mix of styles of story that all find some connection to the fictional town of Marcel, which sometimes looks a lot like Eau Claire, and other times is a broader representation of Midwestern life. Some of the stories focus on the types of emotional turmoil we all experience as we mature. In “Pruitt-Igoe,” a group of kids explore a condemned housing project and wonder at the families who used to live there. In the short piece “Dilemma, Bearing Moral Weight,” the main character loses his keys and considers living the rest of his life on his front porch. Most of the collection, though, features extreme versions of the struggles of growing up, or painful situations that are less common to the coming of age process. In “Leaving Home,” a father and son take a trip to the big city following the son’s successful completion of rehab, while “Night’s Retreat,” perhaps the strongest story of the collection, recounts an undergraduate having an affair with a beloved professor’s wife. Maierhofer captures the tone of the collection best when he explains, “these stories might be seen as strange little punk odes to dissatisfied people.”

Teen angst and disgust with small town Midwestern living are well-worn topics, especially from young writers in college workshops. But there is a reason why Maierhofer’s pieces on those common themes found a publisher. He experiments with form and perspective, and many of the pieces are closer to character sketches than traditionally plotted stories. Of those shorter pieces, Maierhofer explains, “Often with the very language-centric stories a character will take precedent, their voice, and some vague impression of a stranger explored in a few thousand words.” In those impressions, Maierhofer presents insight and wisdom that is stereotypically absent from the earlier works in many writers’ careers. For example, when discussing becoming an artist in the story “Speedbaot,” Maierhofer describes the start of the creative process as “a teenager approaching a concrete wall in the middle of nowhere with an empty bottle.” As insight, and as imagery, Maierhofer’s simile is both skilled and true.

Maierhofer will be pursuing his master of fine arts degree at the University of Idaho, where he hopes to continue exploring contemporary indie literature and work towards a teaching career. “I had the great pleasure of working with professor Bob Nowlan at (UW-Eau Claire) in my final semester there as an undergraduate … and it lit a fire in me to make teaching a priority alongside writing, and to apply the same attitudes I’ve had personally about writing to the lives of others wherever possible.” If Marcel and Maierhofer’s other published works represent his angsty, early career work, then a line from “Pruitt-Igoe” is the best summation of Maierhofer as an artist; “Kids don’t know much. I guess we weren’t kids maybe.”

Marcel by Grant Maierhofer is available at Crossroads Books, 2803 E. Hamilton Ave., and The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St., as well as online at www.theheavycontortionists.com.

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