Reading The Temple of Air is like watching as a large cleaver slices through the heart of a small Midwestern town and with one swift downward stroke reveals a cut-away view of the strata of daily existence, allowing one to peek into the minutia of lives frozen in time. The exposed material is brutal, raw and real. So powerfully does McNair jettison her characters into our imaginations ─ like comets on predestined orbits ─ that even as they move out of view, we know where they are heading.
The collection of eleven stories spans three decades in the town of New Hope and pulls the reader into the pathos of mostly ordinary working class people who are touched by war, grief, natural disaster and the disappointment of dreams unfulfilled. We encounter adults who fail in their responsibilities to their children and adolescents who are lost on the road to maturity. On the streets and in the backrooms of New Hope, townspeople commit acts of nobility and depravity as they grapple with the both commonplace and extraordinary challenges that life or fate imposes.
The book opens with a heart wrenching tragedy set against the backdrop of the painfully mundane. The principals are immediately scarred and when they reappear later, they remain burdened by the event. The loosely interconnected tales create a complex portrait of humanity presented in word perfect prose. McNair’s writing is so charged that at times the stories seem to emerge in the spaces between the words and in the silence between the sentences.