More than a few details in “Closer All the Time” were pulled from author Jim Nichols’ own life. From his list of former occupations, a handful show up in these 13 loosely connected stories, among them bartender, pilot, and ramp and ticket agent for a commuter airline.

Nichols was born and raised in Maine and now lives in Warren. Perhaps it’s his personal experience that helps to strike the chord of authenticity that can be heard throughout these stories – in the dialogue, the characterizations and the struggles between loneliness and connection.

“Closer All the Time” offers a look at life in the fictitious small town of Baxter, Maine, through stories linked by common places and characters. The characters are powerful, and their struggles keep the reader flying along from chapter to chapter, even without a traditional narrative.

Nichols is expert at shining a spotlight on private moments. A mother dances alone late at night in her attic. A boxer’s mind wanders just seconds before his fight. An alcoholic rationalizes each drink at the bar when he knows he’s meant to be home to greet his children at the school bus. In each instance, time seems to slow down and the character’s thoughts and movements betray weighty emotions.

Nichols creates in children the same depth that he develops for his adult characters, for some of the story’s most moving moments. As a young girl, Tomi secretly watches her mother dancing in the attic. Nichols writes that, “aching in several new ways, Tomi didn’t feel nearly ready to become a woman.”

In another chapter, a lonely boy named Arnold leaves his drunk mother at home and goes out to the family’s old chicken coop. It is night, and he shoots a rifle, aiming at his aunt and uncle’s house. “After a while he could hear a siren. It got louder and closer, and he waited to see what would happen. He’d be just as glad if somebody would show up. It was freezing in the coop, and it was getting creepy, too, because he couldn’t keep from thinking about those chickens.”

For all of the everyday tragedy and heartbreak found in “Closer All the Time,” there are also small moments of redemption and salty bits of wisdom. If anyone could be called a main character it is Johnny, whose story bookends this collection and pops up throughout.

In the beginning, Johnny is struggling (but failing) to keep his marriage and family together. He shows up later as a kind friend, shellfish poacher and town drunk. At the end of the story, he’s trying to stay sober and connecting, ever so subtly, with a few people who have been very important to him. With these connections, Nichols leaves us with the tiniest, most authentic bits of hope.

Heidi Sistare is a writer who lives in Portland. She attended the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and has published work in The Rumpus, Martha’s Vineyard Magazine and Edible Vineyard. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @heidisistare

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