by Mithran Somasundrum
is a remarkably focused collection. Each story is about a relationship
between a man and a woman, and each story exposes that relationship’s
faultlines. Almost all are narrated by the men, who have such similar
voices from one story to the next, they are practically the same man.
He is often blue collar, he is not well educated but is intelligent and
has a recording eye for life’s quotidian details; he is stoical,
matter-of-fact and perceptive; he monitors his own moods and is
restless under his own skin.
Restlessness sometimes comes
because he wants more, even if it is not entirely clear to him what
“more” actually consists of. In Me and Paul the
narrator meets a woman at a hot spring and starts telling her lies,
inventing a successful version of himself, a version he envies.
Elsewhere, restlessness needs to be diagnosed by someone else. In Bill the narrator’s
fiancée is irritated by his shopping for secondhand clothes, seeing it
as him wanting to become a different person. By the end of the story we
suspect she’s right. In Faster
the narrator, Nick, lives under his older brother’s weighty
disapproval. This causes him to break off his engagement, and despite
the story ending on Nick’s determined optimism, the reader sees a man
restless as ever, running (literally) to stand still.
The other theme of Faster, that of
someone being pushed into something he doesn’t want to be, comes up
again in Beaching It,
one of the collection’s eeriest stories. An itinerant metal worker
spends his summers travelling through seaside towns, selling
candelabras to tourists. Young and good-looking, he becomes the regular
affair of a rich man’s 40-year-old wife. In its way it’s an ideal
arrangement, and yet he gradually finds himself unsatisfied as the
unthinking sex-on-the-beach stud she’s turned him into. The story
suggests we can be haunted by ghosts from our longed for, unreachable
futures, as well as our past.
Often these characters have only
half-understood desires, and one result of this is that their lives can
turn on a single knife-edged moment. In The Balkan House a
guy waits in a cheap motel for his girlfriend’s divorce to become
final. Trapped in limbo, his circumstances will change forever because
of an act he can’t even explain to himself. In Meeting Grace a
similar thing happens when the narrator introduces his wild sister to
his Indian fiancée. However, this story is less successful, due to his
fiancée’s lack of a personality. With her characterisation restricted
to a bindi spot on her forehead and her blessing their food by singing
over it in an un-named Indian language, she seems less an actual woman
and more like something chipped off the wall of a temple. However, this
is a rare misstep for a writer whose female characters are usually as
convincing as the males. And in fact, some of these stories are less
about the narrator than about the woman he is involved with – in the
Carveresque Three A.M.
Ambulance Driver the story is more about the ambulance
driver in question, and about all the hard-won experience which lies
behind her. She has the same steady sense of the men in the book, but
is, you feel, without their internal conflicts. Those conflicts are
summarised perfectly by Philip Larkin in The
With a Hole in it:
Life is an immobile,
Three-handed struggle between
Your wants, the world’s for you,
The unbeatable slow
That brings you what you’ll
That most English of poets would
have understood these American characters and would, perhaps, have
admired their refusal to concede to the slow machine just yet. Instead,
the inhabitants of Wifeshopping
push on, mostly unbeaten, mostly
unbowed, still wanting to do the right thing, still confounded by their
Read one of the stories
from this collection (PDF version) on StevenWingate.com.
was born in Colombo, grew up in London and currently lives and works in
Bangkok. He has published short fiction in Natural Bridge, The Sun,
Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, The Minnesota Review and Zahir,
among others, and has a story forthcoming in GUD.
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Bakeless Prize for Fiction
Wingate’s stories have received awards from Gulf Coast and the Journal
and been nominated for the Pushcart prize. He teaches writing at the
University of Colorado at Bolder and lives in Lafayette, Colorado.
with Steven Wingate
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