"WHEN I STARTED WRITING SHADOW Play," says Charles Baxter. "I found myself more and more concerned with questions of spiritual redemption." In fact questions about divine presence can be traced back in Baxter's life to his father's death from heart failure when Charles was only 18 months old. "Children who lose a parent through circumstance wonder why their lives have been turned upside down," says Baxter, 45. "It was reported that I'd go upstairs and watch for my father put the window, that I kept asking when he was coming home. Any terrible loss opens a hole in your life that you spend much of your time afterwards trying to fill."
In Baxter's case the void was occupied by writing. Originally inspired by an elderly aunt and her bohemian friends, he went on to publish a 1987 novel, First Light, as well as three collections of short stories, some of which have been included in editions of The Best American Short Stories. An English professor at the University of Michigan, Baxter lives in Ann Arbor with his wife, Martha, their son, Daniel, 13, and a Nanday conure, a small, parrotlike bird. (According to his family, the bird is like the author: irritable but affectionate.) He writes primarily about Midwestern life, which "in its nondescript landscape has a tendency to turn people inward. We don't have the wild verbalisms of the South, the spectacular vistas of the West or the urban culture of the East. There's a sense of learning to make do with limitations. I once described it as being married to a woman who will not kiss you back. It's my spiritual enterprise to write about this."