It's not difficult to imagine William L. Sullivan—the author of four novels and 13 works of nonfiction focused on Oregon and its many wonders—in a rough-hewn log cabin, tucked into the wilderness, typing out his novels and stories on an ancient manual typewriter (which is exactly what he did). In his most recent book, The Oregon Variations: Stories, Sullivan weaves together the quaint and quirky alongside parody and the picturesque to create a suite of stories set in every county of the Beaver State.
Sullivan made a name for himself penning Oregon guidebooks (10, to date) that focus on its four corners. His deep knowledge and understanding of his setting serves him well in The Oregon Variations, which provides readers with keen insight into the most popular features of the Pacific wonderland, as well as its best-kept secrets. But even more than the grand landscapes for which Oregon is known, Sullivan focuses on the people who inhabit them and their various complexities. Like any good short story writer worth his salt, Sullivan doesn't shy away from tough topics. His stories include religious fanatics, lesbian love, a poet Sasquatch, political debates on wolf populations and management, found poetry, crosswords puzzles, as well as alien intervention on earth and a modern day fairy tale. Modeled on Bach's famous "Goldberg Variations," Sullivan manages to harmonize place with people in a new and interesting way.
In "Roller Girls," Sullivan describes a Beaverton derby team and the troubled romantic rivalry between the two star skaters. "Hot Shots" takes us along with a Hells Canyon fire crew from Redmond, as it jumps into the Greenhorn Range of Eastern Oregon after a lightning strike sparks a wildfire. A bored Portland bookstore owner buys a tourist trap on a hunch in "The Vortex," mimicking the classic beanstalk tale, where a corporate conglomerate stands in for the giant. In each of these stories, which the author admits are inspired by the echoes of loneliness and identity-seeking that preoccupied Franz Kafka, characters often find themselves straddling worlds, suddenly seeing themselves clearly for the first time. In the after forward, the author insists that each story ought to stand alone, yet is reflected in the others like a hall of mirrors. "Perhaps mirrors are why our country is so lonely," he says. "Oregon's stories can be as confounding as inside-out trees, houses with airy crowns trapped in heartwood walls."
In a land where weird is right, Sullivan's enigmatic and always entertaining works of short fiction remind us of the myriad personalities that are drawn to our corner of the world, and what inspires us to stay.