Wormwood, Nevada is David Oppegaard’s alien-injected follow-up to his 2008 Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel The Suicide Collectors. Oppegaard is a Twin Cities native who, having grown up in small town of Crystal Lake, MN, went on to earn his M.F.A in Writing from Hamline University in St. Paul, MN. He has a twisted and dark sense of humor that imbues all of his characters with tragic and often comedic destines. While reading one of his novels, you can’t help but feel sucked a long with the characters as they do battle with the most human of flaws while trying to collectively escape a lager than live catastrophe.
In Wormwood, Nevada, Oppegaard invites us to share in the lives of Anna and Tyler as they begin their new lives in the dusty sunburned town of Wormwood, Nevada. Tyler was offered a job teaching high school English, including an ever so thankful summer school class, in Wormwood. Tyler admits that he could have found a teaching job elsewhere, but he has a plan that includes staying in his Aunt Bernie’s home for a year while they save up enough money for a place of their own. Meanwhile, Anna, a former Miss Nebraska, still wants the excitement of the big city, and she is very leery about their move to Wormwood.
The town of Wormwood takes on a life of its own. Oppegaard’s writing allows readers to feel the sun-parched, dusty soil, and the refreshing sips of lemonade mixed with vodka that Aunt Bernie refers too when she says, “I figure drinking’s the most popular pastime in Wormwood” (12). Wormwood is one of those places where everyone knows everyone’s name and just enough of each other’s intimate affairs to be just a little bit dangerous, a real ‘these are the people in my neighborhood’ type place that would make Sesame Street proud.
The real reason to finish Oppegaard’s Wormwood, Nevada is that it is clearly a case study in personal and communal trauma. Tyler and Anna struggle with what their relationship looks like now that they’ve moved in with Aunt Bernie in Wormwood. One day, will Anna pack up her things, take the car, and drive west because she has finally had it with Tyler and his nerdy obsessions and Aunt Bernie’s over dramatic dream love affair with Leonard Nimoy, or will she stay? Will Tyler’s fascination with visitors from outer space drive her away? With his head in the sky, will he even notice that she is gone?
And what about the rest of the town, how will Wormwood define itself after the meteorite crashed into downtown? “Will it change” is the question that everyone in town is struggling to answer, as well as, “Can I change”? The problem is that change always follows a traumatic event. Change is a natural response to unnatural or unusual circumstances of which Wormwood, Nevada’s supply is about to overflow.
Aaron M. Wilson lives in Minneapolis with his loving wife and his two cat’s (one good and one bad). He reviews short stories for his blog, The Soulless Machine Review, and is an adjunct instructor of English, Literature, and Environmental Science at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Minneapolis/St. Paul.