The Florist’s Daughter
by Patricia Hampl
Harcourt Trade, $24
Hampl conjures up postwar St. Paul, when the Czechs lived off West Seventh, the Irish Catholics clustered around the Cathedral, and the heiresses of Summit Avenue decked their houses with bouquets provided by Hampl’s father, a handsome florist. The memoirist strings together snapshots of her naive Czech father and her shrewd Irish mother as they move from youthful romance to frail old age, also noting her own complicated transition from daughter to caretaker. Her parents lived ordinary often aggravatingly provincial lives, yet Hampl creates a stirring portrait of the pair.
by Benjamin Percy
Graywolf Press, $15
Like the Oregon wilderness they inhabit, the men at the center of Percy’s stories are simultaneously hard-baked and brittle, more adept at handling rifles than women or emotions. They take solace in the monotony of manual labor. They enjoy watching “big animals tear apart little animals.” In fact, butchery and blood figure prominently in this collection, with the Iraq war whining in the background. But readers who don’t flinch will find themselves rewarded. Percy, a Wisconsin writer and runner-up in Minnesota Monthly’s 2007 Tamarack Award competition, delivers up raw stories that ultimately pinch a nerve.
When the Needle Hit the Wax
Joshua “Stook” Stuckey left tiny Auburn, Indiana, to find local music love, but the hip Hoosier is so charmingly un-Minnesotan that he’s enriched the Twin Cities scene not by fitting in but by being different. Very different. His band, the Jukes, is a hot-chops, funky-good-time outfit blending Southern roadhouse heat with romantic Americana. Stook, a strong-voiced singer, nevertheless won over Minnesotans with the heart-tugging anthem “A Song is More than Just a Song” from his debut, The Soundtrack to My Minneapolis. Needle is a worthy follow-up from an oddball on a roll.
Before he was a Grammy-winning co-writer for the outspoken Dixie Chicks (“Not Ready to Make Nice”), Dan Wilson was a local hero blessed with abundant hooks and a huge heart. Unlike his roof-raising radio hits with the Minneapolis band Semisonic (“Closing Time,” “Sculpture Garden”), his solo debut aims to slow down, breathe deep, and look around a little bit. It’s less Goo Goo Dolls pop and more Cat Stevens mellow. Free Life may drip syrup at times, but it’s a small price to pay for the many smart, reflective gems about love and loss, earthly purpose, and renewed hope in sad times.
Up and Coming
Perish or Publish! Here’s a safe landing for all those frustrated writers parachuting from the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press—put out a book! Among the ex-reporters taking the plunge are Al Sicherman (Uncle Al’s Geezer Salad), Catherine Watson (Home on the Road), Matt Peiken (working on proposals about poker-dealing school and game shows), and Jay Weiner (about being jailed for refusing to testify on the Patty Hearst kidnapping case).