Baxter brings the mythic to the Midwest with Gryphon.
Collecting stories from the beginning of his career to the present, Charles Baxter's Gryphon delights as it shows a thoughtful artist's progression from good to damn good. Gryphon takes its title from a story about a substitute teacher with a proclivity for mythology, oddball trivia, and delightful lies, and just as the gryphon is half-eagle and half-lion, the collection balances a bland Midwestern milieu with a lively absurdism. Baxter lulls us into flat terrains and flatter lives before bursting his stories open with wonderfully bizarre conversations that border on the theatrical. One of the collection's pleasures is the way in which the eccentricities of Baxter's characters feel at once juxtaposed against their white-bread background and completely a product of them. Throughout Gryphon, an anxious relationship between greatness and normalcy arises, whether it's in a story about a pianist who realizes he's only a genius in the microcosm of his small town or a man torn between being a hero of the underclass and family responsibilities. Together these stories showcase Baxter's uncanny ability to parse middle America for the ironic, the lyrical, and the surreal.