Fiction | September 01, 1994

This story is available via the PDF link below.

For Tio, the worst part about burying horses is having to quarter them, to cut them up so thay fit in the hole. That’s what gets to him most, even more than the shock and disappointment of finding them dead.

“Roan” by Diza Sauers

Featured as an Editor’s Pick, April 9, 2008:

Animals figure prominently, even disturbingly, in Diza Sauers’ story “Roan.”  Not content to fixate only on the way humans deal with death at an emotional pitch, “Roan” employs a harsh naturalism that reduces death to its biological, or animal, level.  A vast livestock cemetery on a family farm serves as the imaginative space in which Sauers’ characters contemplate the death of Bear, a beloved son and father.  The role of this field in the family’s grieving process looms large from the outset where we are told that the patriarch Tio has buried here “everything that’s died on him, his horse, his first wife, some dogs.”  Furthermore, Tio can’t shake the beauty of a past experience involving rabbits in a prairie fire that informs his sense of the easiness and naturalness of death.  What, then, will become of Bear, whose body lies in state at the local church; whose mother wishes a ritualistic burial for her eldest son?  This tension between familiar death-induced anxiety and a farmer’s obstinate acceptance of death lends to Sauers’ characters a grittiness that is as visceral as the dirt they subsist upon.  Such skillful attention to character and detail on Sauers’ part provides an atmosphere of inevitability that foregrounds the shocking solutions with which her characters resolve their dilemma.

–Ryan Haas

If you are a student, faculty member, or staff member at an institution whose library subscribes to Project Muse, you can read this piece and the full archives of the Missouri Review for free. Check this list to see if your library is a Project Muse subscriber.