In the spare and deliberate stories in The Empire of the Dead, through situations both comic and bluntly melancholy, characters weigh their indecision against the consequences of choice. Through a series of five linked stories, we meet Bern, a New York City architect yearning for a return to “first principles”–the “initial euphoria, the falling-in-love” that led him to consider a life devoted to sheltering others. In his ministrations to colleagues and friends, his memories of magical building feats now in the past, he learns the limits and breadth of joy and need. In another tale, we meet a young painter in a Gulf Coast refinery town struggling to differentiate beauty from affliction. His sister’s encounter with the singer Janis Joplin causes him to reconsider the nature of saintliness. And in the novella “The Magnitudes,” a planetarium director, grieving over the unexpected loss of his parents, must learn how much of the universe he really can control. Like the other characters in this collection, he moves through spaces at once sacred and spoiled, reckoning, taking soundings, trying to find firm footing in the world.
“In this new collection, Tracy Daugherty is the maestro of middle age, and his recurrent character, Bern, is an everyman of modern times. Daugherty writes with great skill, empathy and humor of Bern’s travails and longings. The Empire of the Dead is a superb book of stories that will burnish Daugherty’s already formidable reputation as a contemporary master of short fiction.”–Greg Johnson
“While Tracy Daugherty’s intricate, intriguing, and interconnected stories in The Empire of the Dead are relentlessly narrative they invoke Donald Barthelme’s observation that collage is the art form of the century. These rich fictions are amalgams, jeweled aggregates, beautiful breccia that sculpt the word into lyric concreteness . . . Daugherty transforms complex meditations of our states of being into wholly new and sublime states of matter.”–Michael Martone