We live in a time of hurried tales, jumpy rhythms—a time when video games are more popular than baseball, that pastoral sport that feels so elegant, so nineteenth century. Amy Hassinger’s novel After the Dam has the springy energy of a twenty-first century novel with the graceful pacing of a baseball game. You want to know what’s going to happen, and—wait for it—the story comes toward you gliding on dancers’ feet. Amy Hassinger’s writing is beautiful and smooth as glass.
Her main character needs to get away; she rushes, she takes her daughter and runs. Backwards. Back to her grandmother’s farm. Back into the childhood part of her life when she felt herself to be small and the world to be safe. But when she gets there, the world is anything but safe. Her grandmother’s farm, her family inheritance, is about to be handed back to the Native American tribe who first owned it; her grandmother is dying; the dam near the farm is in danger and her high school lover, a Native American ex-Marine, is taking care of the dam and is ready to take her to bed; and, if this were not enough, she has a baby who she carries uncertainly through her chaotic life.
Amy is a dancer and her choreographed abandon shines through these carefully planned pages that feel like a flung arm, a poised leg. We feel hard work and spontaneity meet. Amy gives us a character for whom there seem to be no good choices. Good choices hide from us because our own tangled desires get in the way. Amy’s writing has a richness and beauty that is inescapable.
I heard her read from the book in Nebraska at the MFA residency where we both teach and I was transfixed. There was one scene where two characters make love under the stars, and the scene is so magical that you feel the stars and lovemaking colliding in a way that is not sentimental, but instead, seamlessly elegant, like entering a waltz in a ball gown. We at Red Hen are very excited to be publishing After the Dam. Amy likes to uncoil the spring and show you how life works, how it begins at the center of the galaxy before all the stars spread out and became the Milky Way.