In All things, All at Once by Lee K. Abbott tries to live up to its title and doesn’t always hit the mark. Many of the stories are filled with main characters the reader never quite likes or tolerates: males cheating on wives and girlfriends; males whiskeyed up or wounded emotionally and spiritually from life, war or birth.
While the reaction to Abbott’s male characters may cause readers to feel the short story collection is uneven, the writing is good and solid. He creates a definite sense of place— mainly the Southwest, New Mexico—and time, whether the story takes place in the Sixties or now.
Likeable or not, most of Abbott’s characters feel real with their tendency to ramble, wheedle, talk and talk and talk. They talk about their fears of going crazy as in "The Way Sin is Said in Wonderland" ; about visits from extraterrestrials as in "The Talk Talked Between Worms"; about visitations from angels as in "The Human Use of Inhuman Beings"; and of course about women as in "Ninety Nights on Mercury".
Some of the short stories are connected, sharing characters, place or events freely as does real life with real people. These interconnected stories are the gems of All Things such as "The Human Use of Inhuman Beings" and "The Way Sin is Said in Wonderland". The stand-alone stories, "Dreams of Distant Lives" and "Gravity", also gleam with the characters' hard won strength and the excellence of Abbott’s creation.
Lee K. Abbott currently teaches creative writing at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. He has written six other books of short stories: The Heart Never Fits Its Wanting: Stories (1980), Love is the Crooked Thing (1986), Strangers in Paradise (1986), Dreams of Distant Lives (1990), Living After Midnight (1991), and Wet Places at Noon (1997).
Reviews of Abbott ‘s work and interviews with him appear here, here and here.
His work has often appeared in The Best American Short Stories and in publications such as Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The Southern Review and The North American Review.
Ultimately Abbott’s stories are, as Williams Giraldi describes, “an orgy of style, one that performs the magic trick of being at once inebriated and exact—his narrators akin to world-class drinkers who can down a fifth of Jim Beam and still stand straight".