by Mary Camarillo
Written as a part of our Tiny Review Series
Andrew Tonkovich is a close observer of modern life, as exemplified by his collection of stories in Keeping Tahoe Blue and Other Provocations. Each story gave me exactly what I needed to know about a character and somehow still managed to surprise me with how their dilemmas concluded. Some of the characters were “ordinary” people living ordinary lives,
who suddenly realized they were in great peril; or the characters were in tremendous peril and then discovered they were just going about their everyday lives. Tonkovich’s provocations made me laugh and cringe for laughing or made me cringe and realize I should be laughing.
And still there is so much hope in his voice.
For example, “In The Neighborhood” a young father guides visitors and workers lost in his non-GPS-friendly canyon to their destinations. He knows all the neighbors by their biographical details--the wigged-out Vietnam vet turned exterminator, the hermit psychotherapist with the drunken boyfriend and the Brazilians with the scary Doberman.
Finally, in “Keeping Tahoe Blue, A Novella” set on the famously clear California alpine lake, the narrator, Otis Clarke, warns that “you will see that I was (and am) subject to flights of fancy.” I was happy to be on this flight. Tonkovich’s mind dives deeply and precisely into the bottom of the famously blue lake with Otis where the toxins are leaking and making the blue disappear. Otis is another ‘ordinary human being,’ failing at adult responsibilities and yet rising to increasingly demanding circumstances, equally pleased and annoyed with himself and his actions.
Tonkovich’s characters all have a small amount of self-satisfaction tempered with self-awareness of their imperfections as they try to be better fathers, sons, neighbors, and citizens. The human condition is made understandable and forgivable in this wonderful collection.
Mary Camarillo’s debut novel The Lockhart Women will be published in June of 2021. She lives in Huntington Beach.