Thursday, February 27, 2014

Deliberately Short

This is Not an Accident by April Wilder is a pretty great collection of short stories.  It starts with the title story, which actually reminded me a little of one of Malie Meloy's stories from Both Ways is the Only Way I Want It. This was not a great start, since Meloy's stories really didn't move me.  The next story, "The Butcher Shop", also had  familiar feel.  Then I realized that it was familiar because I had read it in McSweeney's 23, back in 2007, when Wilder published it there.  When I read the third story,  "We Were Champions", I felt like I had found a new very best friend.

Wilder is a very talented short story author.  "We Were Champions" is the story of a girl, living in the City of Wrigleyville, State of Chicago, having a pig roast during a Cubs game that she could hear but not see.  She had recently learned that her high school softball coach, who had gone to jail for molesting most of the team, had killed himself.  Meanwhile, her relationship with her current boyfriend is disintegrating before her eyes, one swing at a time.

"It's a Long Dang Life" is a story of lost and found love.  Laney, a grandmother, has reunited with her former boyfriend, who she believed was killed in Vietnam.  Recognizing his shortcomings, and her own failure at an earlier marriage, she refuses to marry him.  In what might or might not be mock despair, the boyfriend, Odd, takes her grandsons hostage in their backyard play house.  A part of him wants to force her to marry him, but another part realizes it's all just a game for the grandchildren.  He thinks.

In both of these stories, the woman is managing a relationship with a man who has a drinking problem.  The topics of codependency, enabling, and relationships slowly ending invade most of Wilder's stories.  "Three Men" is a story told in the format of a musical round.  You know how one side of the room begins singing "Make new friends, but keep the old" and then the other side starts with "Make new friends . . . " while the first side moves on to the next line?  Yeah, like that.  Wilder starts with the story of Jess' husband, an actuary who she calls "The Count".   From there, we move a little backward in time, while still moving forward, to the story of Jess' brother.  Then we go to Jess' father's story, to complete the round.  The effect is really interesting, in that it tells a full story, focusing separately on three different people, all from the perspective of one woman.

Another story, "Me, Me, Me" is about a woman who can't tell her feelings to her boyfriend, but instead writes them down in letters that she mails to herself.  This all seems innocent enough, until she starts refusing to go out, because the mailman is coming, and she needs to stay and see which letter will come to her in the mail that day.  I couldn't help to think that writing letters to oneself is not so different from blogging.  So to me, it didn't really seem all that strange, just a little sad.

The GoodReads reviews of This is Not an Accident were confusing to me.  Some people said that the stories were hilarious.  They were not.  Nor do I think they were intended to be.  Others said that the stories were too dark or difficult to understand.  I have to think that if the reader doesn't normally read either short stories or McSweeney's authors, they might not get Wilder.  However, if Lorrie Moore and Tobias Wolff are on your shelves, April Wilder will fit right in.  So many lines were precisely right, accurate, and true.  Wilder knows the subject of modern American relationships, and calls them like she sees them.

I reviewed this book at the request of Shannon Twomey of Viking Penguin Books.  I received a free copy of the book, but other than that, no payments were received, and no promises were made. 

Next Up:  Where'd You go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Still Listening to:  The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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