by Carol Reid
suburbia is a precarious place. The characters in these ten remarkable
stories have a lot to lose.
Their hold on the middle class trappings of career, status and
reputation is tenuous. Families, marriages, even minds, disintegrate.
Their sins - real, imagined, or both - follow them like dogs.
the core of this collection is the stoic resilience of the narrators,
who seem to share their burdens through the act of storytelling.
Porter's prose is clear and unadorned, and impresses the reader with
its apparent openness. Through the variable lens of memory, each
narrator struggles to get his (occasionally, her) story straight and,
in doing so, some version of the truth is revealed.
nameless narrator of the opening story, Hole, looks back
twelve summers to the event surrounding the loss of his childhood
friend and tries to come to a resolution of his role in the tragedy.
This very short but profoundly affecting story introduces themes of
guilt, responsibility and consequences of impulsive acts which run
though many of the stories in the collection.
Coyotes is told
from the point of view of Alex, who recalls a time of crisis in his
parents' relationship. As a teenager in the Seventies he faces the
breakdown of his talented, but deeply troubled, filmmaker father. Alex
resents his increasingly erratic father's attempts to recruit his
allegiance, which reach their peak in the scene I've quoted at the top
of this review. In this memorable scene, his father directs Alex to
watch the events happening in his mother's office window, a deeply
disturbing mockery of a drive-in movie.
"Maybe if I had known," Alex says, "that it would be years before I saw
him again, I might have treated him differently. But I didn't, so I
stared out the window at the ocean, ignoring his questions until he
finally stopped asking them."
title story, The Theory
of Light and Matter may be the most ambitious most vexing
story of the collection. Here, Porter uses a female narrator and seems
to hit a wall in his understanding of her character and her compulsion
to carry on an essentially dishonest relationship with one of her
college professors. I felt that he let his protagonist off the hook by
not allowing her to become aware of her failings as deeply as do his
of Porter's narrators seem, at the outset, to be on the periphery of
events. As the stories progress the reader realizes the nature of the
characters' involvement in the outcome. I really enjoyed the sense of
revelation provided by this aspect of the stories.
Porter depicts a family utterly at sea since the death of the
narrator's father, years before. The truth of the circumstances leading
to the appearance of the narrator's sister sans fiancé shift and twist
until the reality of the situation seems unknowable. This is a
complicated, exasperating, irresistible portrait of a family
disintegrating from all sides.
The Theory of Light and Matter
is wonderful introduction to Andrew
Porter's fiction. Do I want to read
more? Definitely, yes.
Reid lives and writes in a small community on the west coast of Canada.
She is an assistant fiction editor for Sotto Voce magazine, which will
debut online in mid-October.
Publisher: University of Georgia Press
2007 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction
Porter received his B.A. in English from Vassar College and
an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa Writers’
Workshop. His fiction has appeared in One Story, Epoch, The Ontario
Review, Prairie Schooner, The Antioch Review, StoryQuarterly, The
Threepenny Review, Others Voices, Story and The Pushcart Prize Anthology,
among others. Currently, Andrew lives in San Antonio, where he is an
Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Trinity University.
with Andrew Porter
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