Acts of God consists of ten short stories, many of them loosely centered around major traumas and revelatory events. It’s a series of stories about Gilchrist’s regular folks facing the big one, in various scenarios: Hurricane Katrina, the destruction following a tornado, terrorism, and the human horror we’re all destined for if we’re lucky — aging and mortality.
And while it sounds dark, the stories are laced through with good humor and hints of the miraculous. Some are explicitly so: “Miracle in Adkins, Arkansas,” is a story about five teenage volunteers who find a baby, alive, in the rubble of a tornado, and what happens as a result. One girl, Marie, may just end up as a writer, practicing what she’ll tell people and vowing, “I don’t want all my memories lost in some fog like most people’s are. I am capturing mine every chance I get.”
Some stories are less successful — following up the marvelous “Collateral,” about a young woman falling in love whose unit is called up in order to provide aid in Mississippi, with “High Water,” about a gay couple waiting out Hurricane Katrina on a trip in New Orleans, makes the latter look chatty and superficial, comparatively. The voice wasn’t as sharp.
But there is something — a magic that’s difficult to clarify, that may be corny in someone else’s eyes — to Gilchrist’s work that doesn’t come around often. Even if it didn’t thrum at the same urgent frequency for me, since I’m older, wiser, and less dreamily open to experience than the 15-year-old who first read her work. Gilchrist still has the power to turn a simple line into a profound insight on what it’s like to be human. Aging and death are the twin ghouls running throughout Acts of God, looming over the characters, and the result of looking into the void gives these stories wisdom and compassion, or to quote Gilchrist: “Glad to be alive in the only world there is, alive and eating and still breathing and not afraid really of anything that might happen next.”