The southern landscape that pervades William Hoffman's latest collection of short stories, Doors, is at once familiar and unsettling. Returning to the people and locales that define Hoffman's fiction—ranging from the rednecks and the white-collar elite of Virginia's tobacco country to the families that work its Tidewater shores—Doors is a brilliant and moving exploration of individuals continually at odds with their circumstances.
Primarily set in Tobaccoton, a fictional town in southside Virginia, the stories in this collection open doors on a multifaceted humanity, men and women often in search of obsessive identities or ideals—cross-class marriages and romances, adultery within class and outside it, and the inevitable consequences of behavior. At times Hoffman's characters face such challenges with nobility and grace; at other times they run from all hope of ever truly understanding the situations laid before them. In short, they abide.
A lifetime of snobbery is the greatest obstacle the widow in the title story must overcome in order to regain the life of companionship and fulfillment she had once known. In "Stones," a young boy working for a mysterious, well-educated black man is so overwhelmed by racism that he never fully understands the profound irony of his situation. Living according to the biblical conviction that "you reap what you sow," the husband in "Winter Wheat" believes he is following the path of righteousness when he puts an end to the adulterous affair his wife is having with the school principal.
Hoffman's gift for realizing the full emotional potential of his characters and stories shines through in "Landings" and "Humility." One of the few stories to take place outside of Tobaccoton, "Landings" is a tale of role reversal, in which the intended saver becomes the saved, and both characters reveal they have something to bring to each other. "Roll Call" touches upon the nobility of the human spirit when a young boy truly understands the final sacrifice one individual is making to sustain the security and happiness of his family. With this fourth collection of stories, Hoffman opens richly diverse doors that lead us into the many chambers of memorable, preeminent fiction.