Charles Baxter’s gift for the short story is manifested in Gryphon, a compilation of stories selected from four earlier collections, joined by seven previously uncollected works. In each of these 23 stories, Baxter offers the reader a brief but brilliantly illuminated glimpse into the world of one of his unique characters—quirky souls with whom the reader can somehow empathize.
After his brother’s death, a young single man becomes his nephew Gregory’s guardian, and is “terrified by every minute of his entire future earthly life”—overwhelmed by the unexpected responsibility suddenly thrust upon him. In his efforts to become a parent, he begins to create nightly imaginary horoscopes for Gregory, always with a positive outlook, to help his nephew navigate the sorrowful days following his parents’ deaths.
In “Horace and Margaret’s Fifty-Second,” Margaret visits her husband in the nursing home, recalling how he gradually lost his mind and memory, lately confusing the names of his beloved trees with the names of his children.
The title story features a delightful substitute teacher, Miss Ferenczi—a free spirit with a purple purse and a checkerboard lunchbox who mesmerizes her class with a tale about the gryphon in a cage she saw on her trip to Egypt. She ends the day by telling the students’ fortunes with a pack of Tarot cards—an act leading to her abrupt dismissal.
In one of the haunting newer stories, “The Old Murderer,” a recovering alcoholic, estranged from his wife and children, finds hope in what he learns about love and commitment from the murderer who moves in next door after his release from prison.
Baxter’s stories don’t have predictably happy conclusions. He simply leaves us with a lingering sense of having just met someone totally unlike ourselves, but a kindred spirit nevertheless.