Red Ant House: Stories

by Ann Cummins

Denis Johnson meets Flannery O’Connor in this luminous collection of short stories about the collision of cultures, genders, and generations in the American Southwest. Set mainly amid Indian reservations and uranium mills, these twelve stories create a kaleidoscopic view of family, myth, love, landscape, and loss in a place where infinite skies and endless roads suggest a world of possibility, yet dreams are deceiving, like an oasis, just beyond reach. Whether it’s a young woman pushed quite literally to the edge on a desolate mountain pass, an orphaned brother and sister trying to patch together an existence one stitch at a time, a cop who suspects his kleptomaniac wife is stealing from other people — materially and emotionally — or a wily roadside hypnotist whose alleged power is both wonderful and strange, Ann Cummins’s characters want to transcend the circumstances of their lives, to believe in the eventuality of change.

Again and again, Ann Cummins generates imagery of white-hot intensity and pushes the limits of both the human spirit and the short story form. Gritty, seductive, and always daring, this unforgettable debut collection puts forth a haunting new vision of hope and heartache in contemporary America and confirms the arrival of an important new voice.

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780618269259
  • ISBN-10: 0618269258
  • Pages: 192
  • Publication Date: 04/07/2003
  • Carton Quantity: 36

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About the Book
About the Author
Excerpts
Reviews
  • About the Book
    Denis Johnson meets Flannery O’Connor in this luminous collection of short stories about the collision of cultures, genders, and generations in the American Southwest. Set mainly amid Indian reservations and uranium mills, these twelve stories create a kaleidoscopic view of family, myth, love, landscape, and loss in a place where infinite skies and endless roads suggest a world of possibility, yet dreams are deceiving, like an oasis, just beyond reach. Whether it’s a young woman pushed quite literally to the edge on a desolate mountain pass, an orphaned brother and sister trying to patch together an existence one stitch at a time, a cop who suspects his kleptomaniac wife is stealing from other people — materially and emotionally — or a wily roadside hypnotist whose alleged power is both wonderful and strange, Ann Cummins’s characters want to transcend the circumstances of their lives, to believe in the eventuality of change.

    Again and again, Ann Cummins generates imagery of white-hot intensity and pushes the limits of both the human spirit and the short story form. Gritty, seductive, and always daring, this unforgettable debut collection puts forth a haunting new vision of hope and heartache in contemporary America and confirms the arrival of an important new voice.

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    Red Ant House The first time I saw this girl she was standing at the bottom of the coal pile. I thought she was a little wrinkled dwarf woman, with her sucked-in cheeks and pointed chin. She had narrow legs and yellow eyes. They had just moved into the old Perino house on West 2nd. This was the red ant house.

    “I’m having a birthday,” the girl said.

    She was going around the neighborhood gathering up children she didn’t know for her birthday party. She told us they had a donkey on the wall and beans in a jar.

    “What kind of beans?” I asked her.

    She shrugged.

    “Hey, you guys,” I said to my brothers.

    “This bean wants us to go to her birthday party.” “My name’s not Bean.” “What is it, then?” “Theresa Mooney.” “You don’t look like a Theresa Mooney.” She shrugged.

    “Hey, you guys. This girl named Bean wants us to go to her birthday party.” She didn’t say anything then. She turned around and started down the street toward her house. We followed her.

    In her yard was a grease monkey. Her yard was a junker yard with car parts and cars all over the place, and a grease monkey was standing up against one car, smoking a cigarette.

    “Joe,” the little dwarf girl said, “what do you think of a name like Bean?” He considered it. The man was handsome, with slick black hair and blue eyes, and he gave the dwarf a sweet look. I couldn’t think of how such a funny-looking child belonged to such a handsome man. “It’s an odd one,” he said. The girl looked at me, her eyes slant. “One thing about a name like that,” he said, “it’s unusual.

    Everybody would remember it.” That idea she liked. She looked at me with a little grin. She said, “My name is Bean.” Just as if the whole thing was her idea.

    Rosie Mooney was this Theresa’s mother.

    When she moved in she had not known there would be ants in the house.

    These were the ants that had invaded the Perinos’ chickens two summers before. Nobody wanted to eat chicken after that.

    The ants came through the cracks in the walls. Rosie Mooney had papered those walls with velveteen flowered wallpaper. She had a red room and a gold room. She had wicked eyes to her, Rosie Mooney—could look you through and through.

    These were trashy people, I knew. They had Christmas lights over the sink. They had hodgepodge dishes, and garlic on a string, and a book of matches under one table leg to make it sit straight. When the grease monkey came in, he kissed Rosie Mooney on the lips, a long wormy kiss, and then he picked the birthday girl up and swung her in a circle.

    For us, he took off his thumbs.

    “It is an optical illusion,” the girl told us.

    He could also bend his thumbs all the way back, tie his legs in a knot, and roll his eyes back and look at his brain.

    “Your dad should be in the circus,” I told the girl.

    “He’s not my dad.” “What is he?” She shrugged.

    The grease monkey laughed. It was a shamefaced laugh.

    There were two prizes for the bean jar event: one for a boy, one for a girl. The boy’s prize was a gumball bank. Put a penny in, get a ball of gum. When the gum was gone you’d have a bank full of pennies. Either way, you’d have something.

    The girl’s prize was a music box. I had never seen such a music box. It was black with a white ivory top made to look like a frozen pond, and when you wound it up, a white ivory girl skated over the top. It was nice.

    We were all over that jar, counting the beans. It was me, my brothers, the Stillwell boys, the Murpheys, and the Frietags. As I was counting, I thought of something. I thought, This jar is an optical illusion. That was because there would be beans behind the beans. It occurred to me that there would be more beans than could be seen, thousands more.

    The grease monkey was the official counter. He had written the exact number on a piece of tape and stuck it to the bottom of the jar. We all had to write our numbers down and sign our names. I wrote five thousand. When Joe read that, everybody laughed.

    “There are beans behind the beans,” I informed them.

    “This one’s a shrewd one,” the grease monkey said. “She’s thinking.” But when he turned the jar over, the number on the tape said 730. This Joe winked at me. “Don’t want to be thinking too hard, though.” I just eyeballed him.

    “You want to count them? You can count them if you want,” he said.

    “I don’t care to.” He grinned. “Suit yourself.” And he awarded the music box to the birthday girl, who had written 600. Then I knew the whole thing had been rigged.

    The birthday girl’s mother said, “Theresa, I bet you’d like some other little girl to hhave the music box since you have birthday presents. Wouldn’t you?” She didn’t want to.

    “That would be the polite thing,” she said. “Maybe you’d like to give it to Leigh.” “I don’t want it,” I said.

    This Theresa looked at me. She looked at the grease monkey. He nodded, then she held the box out to me.

    But I didn’t want it.

    My mother was down sick all that summer.

    The doctor had prescribed complete bed rest so the baby would stay in. For the last three years, she had gone to bed again and again with babies that didn’t take.

    Up until that point, there were six of us children.

    There was Zip, named for my grandmother, Ziphorah. Zippy loved me until I could talk. “You used to be such a sweet child,” she would say. “We used to dress you up and take you on buggy rides and everybody said what a sweet child you were.

    Whatever happened to that sweet child?” There was Wanda, named for my other grandmother. Wanda was bald until she was five, and my father used to take every opportunity to bounce a ball on her head.

    There was me, Leigh Rachel, named by the doctor because my parents drew a blank. I’m the lucky one.

    Once when I was a baby I jumped out a window—this was the second-story window over the rock cliff. My mother, who was down sick at the time, had a vision about it. I was already gone. By the time she got herself out of her bed and up the stairs, I was in flight, but she leaped across the room, stuck her arm out, and caught me by the diaper, just as she’d seen it in the vision.

    Another time, I survived a tumble down Bondad Hill in my grandpa’s Pontiac. We both rolled like the drunk he was. Drunks I know about. My dad’s dad was one, and my mom’s dad was another. I never knew my dad’s mom. She weighed three hundred pounds and died of toxic goiter. My mom’s mom weighed seventy-five at the time of her death. Turned her face to the sky and said, “I despise you all.” Irish like the rest of us.

    There were the boys, Ronald Patrick, Raymond Patrick, Carl Patrick.

    Then there were the ones who didn’t take. One of these I saw, a little blue baby on a bloody sheet. My mother said, “Help me with these sheets,” to Wanda, but Wanda couldn’t stop crying, so I helped pull the sheet away from the mattress, and my mother wadded the sheet up.

    I said, “We should bury that sheet.” She said, “It’s a perfectly good sheet.

    We’ll wash it.” Then she took a blanket and went into the living room and wrapped herself up in it....

  • Reviews
    "Cummins writes deep, from the gut - a refreshing change from all the brainy brawn out there." Elle

    "Strong if uneven: the emerging voice of a new talent to watch." Kirkus Reviews

    "Cummins will deservedly gain more appreciative fans with this finely wrought collection." Booklist, ALA

    "Holds so many moments ripe with emotion that it is almost an injustice to read straight through." Baltimore City Paper

    "Cummins' writing is both gritty and polished...This debut collection is haunting, and leaves the reader wanting more." The Seattle Times

    "Overall these stories emanate suspense, inspiring page-turning tension that nudges the reader from one tale to the next." The Washington Times

    "Brilliantly imagined prose that boasts surprises like small electric shocks." The San Francisco Chronicle

    "Cummins' stories give a similarly illicit kick of fleeting yet indelible intimacy" Los Angeles Times

    "Cummins speaks through [her characters] instead so we hear their woe loud and clear." Entertainment Weekly

    "[Cummins'] dark, offbeat style and ability to make the reader uncomfortable are on full display...Clever and entertaining experiments." Publishers Weekly

    "Cummins gives us snapshots of intense characters who are propelled by untamed forces within themselves." The Arizona Daily Sun

    "Fine, funky stories by a young author duly praised by heavyweights Dave Eggers and John Barth." Boston Phoenix

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