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Seven years ago I got divorced and left Kentucky, heading west. I made the Mississippi River in one day, and it just floored me how big it was. I watched the water until sundown. It didn’t seem like a river, but a giant brown muscle instead. Two days later, my car threw a rod and I settled in Greeley, Colorado. Nobody in my family has lived this far off our home hill.
Chris Offutt’s short story “Barred Owl” uses the skinning of a roadkill owl to shed light on two characters and what they consider to be home and that sense of belonging or lack thereof that go with it.
Outside of a divorce, we don’t know exactly why the narrator left his Kentucky home to ramdomly settle in Colorado but it doesn’t seem like he feels welcomed in this new town even after seven years. A drinking problem coupled with the fact that his “community” is a local bar could have something to do with it.
We also don’t know why Tarvis appears to have followed him out to Colorado at some point. Both knew each other from Kentucky, but it doesn’t seem that they are best of friends.
The roadkill owl that Tarvis brings to the narrator to skin is key to Tarvis’ leaving, though. His inability to shoot animals possibly made him an outcast back in Kentucky.
Chris Offutt’s collection of short stories Kentucky Straight pops up frequently in my neck of the woods whenever bookstores or libraries present selections by Kentucky authors. “Barred Owl” is not included in that collection. It’s included in my copy of Home and Beyond: An Anthology of Kentucky Short Stories edited by Morris Allen Grubbs. I read it when I selected the Eight of Hearts for my Deal Me In 2016 short story project. My Deal Me In 2016 list can be found here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.