Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wait for Signs - Craig Johnson

Wait for Signs is a collection of Craig Johnson's 12 Longmire short stories. And I want back and forth about the first line to share in this review, so I decided you're getting 3 first lines: the acknowledgements, the introduction (written by Lou Diamond Phillips) and the first story, so here you go.

First line (Acknowledgements): "After I was fortunate enough to win the Cowboys & Indians Tony Hillerman Award with 'Old Indian Trick,' the first story in this collection and the first short story I had ever written, I got the bright idea that I'd send it to the folks who subscribed to my newsletter as a free gift for the holidays."

First line (Introduction): "Tightrope."

First line (First Story--"Old Indian Trick"): "It's hard to argue with an old Indian or his tricks."

I picked up this little book with the intention of skimming through it to remind myself of these stories I've read before and read-read the couple that were new to me. But when I sat down and started the skimming part, I said, "oh, I'll just re-read this one because it was so fun." Well, I re-read them all because they are ALL so much fun. And with them came the realization that this is a book that I'll re-read many times because the stories don't lose anything on the second, third, fourth....reads. In fact, they seem to become richer.

As mentioned in the first line of the acknowledgements, the stories kick of with "Old Indian Trick," featuring Walt and Lonnie Little Bird. This story has a mystery element to it, but they don't all. What they all contain is some wisdom of humanity, some insight into the characters we love in the series, and of course, a lot of humor.

"The Ministerial Aid," the book's second story continues to leave me a bit teary-eyed when I read it, needing to go out and do something extra kind for someone. I always feel like this is the story that reminds each of us we're capable of performing miracles--regardless of our faith or lack thereof--we have that power. There are plenty of chuckles in this one, but even more food for thought.

"The Slick-Tongued Devil" follows up "The Ministerial Aid" and they have much of the same effect. Johnson, confined to the limited length of a short story, still manages to bring the Wyoming setting to life in these yarns: "A few granules of snowy sleet had swept across the ridges along the Bighorn Mountains and collected in the low spots and windward sides of the European blue sage, and on one of the escaped structural limbs of the sweat lodge, a great horned owl sat with his back to me."

If you haven't read the series yet, these stories are so enjoyable and heart-warming.  If you have read the series, you get some background we don't read about in the novels. These two stories bring us a bit closer to Walt and the relationship he had with his wife, Martha.

The fourth story "Fire Bird" features one of my series favorites, Lucien Connally, while "Unbalanced" introduces a nameless young woman who never appears in the novels. Both stories remind us a little about the value of family...and friends.

The sixth and seventh stories, "Several Stations" and "High Holidays," show our fearless sheriff dealing with motorists in his kindly--and intuitive--manners. We see the beauty of Johnson's language at work with descriptions like, "The highway patrol had closed the interstate and the driver of the big eighteen-wheeler had negotiated the off-ramp but had only gotten as far as the first turn on the Durant county road before he slid off and slowly rolled the truck over like an apatosaurus looking to make a giant snow angel."

"Toys for Tots" is still probably my all-time favorite of the Longmire short stories. The relationship between Walt and Cady plays out; Walt's extra-large sized compassion is front and center; and Johnson is in top form with the humor. The stories often contain little trivia facts, much like the ones Walt can rattle off in odd situations, and this one provides a little background on the Toys for Tots organization.

"Divorce Horse" takes readers to Memorial Day and a missing sorrel while Walt and Cady play out a friendly, gender-based wager. Johnson's gift for creating vivid images comes alive as he describes an Indian relay race: "The men were painted and so were their mounts. One of the beauties of the sport was the pageantry--some of the riders were in full warbonnets, some in shaman headdresses, the riders and their ponies resplendent in team colors, the designs reflecting the lines, spots, handprints, and lightning bolts recorded in the old Indian ledger drawings."

While Henry Standing Bear appears in several stories, he is prominently featured in "Thankstaking." This story is so rich in meaning, it probably requires several readings to truly grasp it all. The implications of the past, the possibilities of the future and the importance of the present all converge on relationships in this tale of cultures.

"Messenger" came out last year as an ebook story centered around a port-a-john and an owl. With Walt, Vic, Henry and a group of bears, you know you're in for a wild ride.  Vic's wit is in high form--when the trio comes across a ranger sitting on top of a port-a-john with a family of bears rustling around it, she asks the ranger, "Hey, Chuck, what were you doing, looking for a Porta Potty that was just right?" And the madcap adventure contained in this story's 30 pages is one you can only fathom in Absaroka County. And contrasting the humorous element is the respect of Indian lore.

The book concludes on a new story, "Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns." Santiago Saizarbitoria features prominently in this story of a renegade sheep. The presence of Saizarbitoria opens up the opportunity for Walt to share some factoids about the Basque, to which Santiago wants to know, "'Do you really sit around and memorize that stuff?'"

This beautiful little book is a gem. The pages inside are priceless stories of love, relationships, humanity and nature. They are stories to read again and again--especially when you need your faith in people renewed or if you just need a good laugh. I can see this collection as a great introduction to the series for new-comers, and devout fans will definitely want this jewel of the Bighorns for their libraries. As for me, I'm going to make it a yearly holiday tradition to revisit the stories. Re-reading them brought me a warm, fuzzy feeling, which is always a plus in the cold NE Ohio winters.

It's extremely rare for me to suggest to people, "you should definitely sign up for this author's newsletter." But I do that regularly with Craig Johnson. The reason? Each newsletter includes a little anecdote with Craig's wisdom and humor. It's like a smidgeon story and a ray of sunshine in my email box. And then of course, there's the annual Christmas short story. So I encourage you to check out his website, and on the Contact tab, you'll find directions for how to receive his updates...his Post-its!

Wait for Signs is available today in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0525427919)--it's a small book, like Spirit of Steamboat (which comes out in paperback this week, too, by the way), so it would make a nice stocking stuffer if you want to share the Longmire love this holiday season. But for all my fellow audiobook fans who know how AMAZING George Guidall is at narrating this series, there's an audiobook version as well from Recorded Books! I really can't wait to hear him read these stories. Regardless of your preferred format, I hope you enjoy these stories as much as I did, whether it's your first time reading them or your fourth, fifth, sixth....


Beth F October 21, 2014 at 6:55 AM  

I somehow missed this one when I was looking for new releases in October. Love the short story idea.

Jen Forbus October 21, 2014 at 10:29 AM  

Candace, this is such a great little book, whether people are familiar with the series or not, it's a perfect, heartwarming read!

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