That’s When the Knives Come Down
Dolan Morgan’s collection of stories, That’s When the Knives Come Down, is about nothing. If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at the dedication page. Staring back at you are two words: “For nothing.” And isn’t he right? Haven’t our lives become monotonous, filled with duties to which we are expected to adhere? One character aptly laments, “We don’t know what’s true. I can’t trust anyone. I don’t remember if I had family or even who I was before I woke up here, chasing a deadline” (108). With his wry tone, Morgan exposes the endemic that has snuck up on us—paperwork, debt, insurance, loans—and shows us just what we are missing.
Not many people admit to feeling empty, to feeling like there is something more out there. Morgan not only writes about it, he tells us straight. In “Plunge Headlong into the Abyss with Guns Blazing and Legs Tangled,” Morgan writes, “And so it was that Wilson Bettertone became a security guard of the endless void inside all of us and all around us— though admittedly concentrated most densely here at his post in the fields of Tandahone, Montana” (52). The story continues with this gaping, raw, physical manifestation of the despair that suffocates everyone—children fall in, men attempt suicide. Yet, Morgan maintains a humorous viewpoint which is perhaps the best way to deal with such a topic that sends thousands of people to therapy on a daily basis. Well, here. Let me just show you…
“Soon afterward, Mr. Fuller, an unmarried fourth grade teacher at the elementary school, woke up one morning missing a leg—no explanation. ‘It’s not there anymore,’ Chief Rickman made clear, ‘and that’s what’s most important here really if you follow a certain train of thought.’ There was no sign of forced entry and no disturbance in the house other than the missing leg. ‘Sometimes,’ the Chief went on to say, ‘people steal limbs. You don’t hear about it so much because you wouldn’t really believe it if you did. I mean, do you believe it right now? When I’m telling you at this moment? Here at this time? I know I don’t. It’s ridiculous. But still it’s true.’ After three weeks, the leg showed up in Mr. Fuller’s mailbox, stuffed in haphazardly. Hanging around the ankle was a note that read: ‘Sorry, wrong leg.’ It was only two days later that his other leg was stolen just before breakfast” (57).
Some stories seem bizarre and out of this world. I’m looking at you, “How to Have Sex on Other Planets.” Some stories make no sense, such as “Cells,” where whole towns float in the air, citizens holding weapons to each other’s throats, trying to get what they want. Morgan asks us to bear with him, to believe even if we can’t understand. It is only after letting the stories seep into our bodies that we begin to grasp what Morgan is saying. And we realize that we want it; we want time that has been stolen from us. We want space to love and hate and feel. “The first night, we stand under the ceiling fan and stare across the expanse of floorboard, hold hands and laugh, run through the rooms and hide in the darkness amidst our own echo…It’s fantastic and we are in love… [We] fall asleep heaped in each other’s arms—in the corner, a doorway, a windowsill” (42).
The stories that started out as nothing have suddenly turned into everything. Morgan is desperately honest, portraying “our longing to believe in something just out of reach, something waiting for us around corners and over hills … something to shake off the feeling that this is it” (94). And we do believe him because we don’t want to watch as our lives drift by. We want more. So don’t wait. Don’t let yourself get away. Start the chase—it will be terrifying, but oh so worth it.