Deer and Other Stories
 by Susan Tepper

Wilderness House Press 2009,
First collection

Susan Tepper grew up on Long Island where many of the stories in Deer take place. Before settling down to study writing at NYU and New School, she was an actress, flight attendant, marketing manager, tour guide, singer, television producer, interior decorator, rescue worker and more. has published over 100 stories and poems in journals and anthologies worldwide. She has received five nominations for the Pushcart Prize and has been nominated for National Public Radio Selected Shorts Series. Additionally, she is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review, and hosts the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC

Read an interview with Susan Tepper

"Stop worrying about those damned trees. I don’t want to hear another word about them. They’ll burn until they’ve had enough. And that will be that"

Reviewed by Alex Thornber

Deer and Other Stories is short story writing at its very best. From the first sentence of the first story in Tepper’s debut collection of stories, her writing demands nothing short of your utter attention and engagement.

Tepper writes economically, she focuses on emotion and action rather than lots of scenic description and yet she manages to carve a crystal clear image in your mind as you read. Tepper’s key trait however, is that she gives nothing away to readers who don’t work for it, and that is what makes this book so enjoyable. With that in mind, please note, this is a long way from a nice lazy read.

Tepper writes in the sort of way that would gain her entry into the school of Chekov and Carver, every punctuation mark in this slim volume sits in the perfect place. That is not to say that her prose is laborious, far from it. Tepper’s tone bounces across the pages in the spritely manner of the deer that populate these stories.

The roots of the stories themselves are invariably concerned with the various emotions and feelings which all of us experience. Yet, the jealousy, intrigue, love and despair in the average lives of these men, women and children are heightened with their placement in time and the close and ever present connection to the Vietnam War.

The opening story, Deer, tracks the tenuous relationship of a young couple as they drive through town talking, arguing, teasing each other and making up. Despite the references that place this story in a specific time, the tale could easily be told in any number of situations, and probably has been many times before. The young couples' argument itself wouldn’t be out of place in a daily soap or teen drama, however Tepper drives this story off the road and into a wonderfully disconcerting and slightly confusing place.

The young girl, the narrator of this story, brings something different, something extra to the situation. She muses about the two of them running over deer and deliberately says things to provoke the boy driving, whom she calls "Monkey." It is Tepper’s acute observations, her honesty and her delightfully understated prose that truly illuminates this story, and indeed all the stories in this collection.

It is difficult to pinpoint any standout stories in Tepper’s collection because every single one is magnificent. The rest of the stories here feature, at points, an ex-Beatles-follower, a child relocated to his grandparents in Italy, a couple who re-animate Elvis and some kind of group home. Full of strange characters and unrequited love.

What is truly amazing about Deer and Other Stories, and Tepper’s writing in general, is that mystical deer flitter in and out of all the stories, often without cause or explanation, yet their presence is not disconcerting or baffling; it is a strange feeling that Tepper creates with her smooth and polished prose. As you read the latter stories in the collection you may find yourself hunting the deer yourselves, invariably to find that you have already missed them.

Notwithstanding the slightly odd situations and the lingering deer, these characters, and the short episodes of their lives we read on the pages, are, at the heart of everything, deeply human; we can believe in the characters, their reactions, their emotions and we want to know more about them. The writing shifts from different narrative perspectives with each story and still we are captivated. Tepper knows her characters so completely and she knows what to tell us, and how, so that we best connect with them.

This collection has both magical and slightly disturbing elements yet remains completely believable as straight talking literary fiction. Deer and Other Stories hangs together so well as a collection that you could read it from cover to cover and still remember each and every individual story.

Tepper demonstrates her magnificent writing talent, vivid imagination and ability to entertain so perfectly within this volume that her next collection cannot come soon enough.

Read the title story from this collection on Fictionaut

Alex Thornber writes and reads short stories, almost exclusively.
Alex's other Short Reviews: "The Collected Stories of John Cheever"

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