Perfect 10
 by Vivien Jones

Pewter Rose Press
2009, Paperback
First collection

Vivien Jones lives in a small seaside village in Solway Firth, Scotland. After the independent school she worked at closed in 2000, she entered a Creative and Cultural Studies program at the age of 52 and began writing for herself.

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"She thinks she will rest there for five minutes. The evening falls on her like a cool cloak. She shuts her eyes. When she opens them again it is full night."

Reviewed Jason Makansi

Fat people, in particular fat women, come in many flavors and varieties. I suppose that is the underlying message of Perfect 10, even if the admonition on the book’s back flap, is to "examine our tendency to judge by appearances."

Obesity, for that matter any "handicap," seems to me a difficult theme for organizing a collection. How do you make it fresh and unique in every story? How do you convince the reader that the travails of fat women are any more worthy of the fictional stethoscope than the travails of any other group struggling against the norms of the larger society? Given the attention to obesity, indeed weight issues in general, in the background hum of our lives (for example, every other television infomercial has to do with women’s weight), what can a themed story collection do for our collective consciousness? If these three questions are the challenge, Perfect 10 doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.

The other, minor, motif tying the stories together, which merely puzzled me, is the appearance in every story (but one) of a male character, Jimmy, who runs a potato-chip-making establishment. Jimmy the chippie, as he’s known. For me, the connection was irrelevant. Who knows, maybe chippies are revered in Scotland?

However, two of the stories in this collection are worth your time and attention and neither would have been the worse off if the female lead(s) were of normal weight, whatever that means.

Dancing on Gravel concerns what happens to a woman who leaves a bachelorette (for lack of a better word) party and walks several miles to her home instead of paying through the nose for a taxi. She’s dressed provocatively and inappropriately for the short cut she decides to take, a hike along a river trail in the town/city. It is daylight when she embarks and late at night when she returns home. The story has a strong voice and, even more refreshingly, paints an equally strong sense of place through that voice. What happens to her walking alone is, in parts, predictable, but each step of this short journey delivered a wince of empathy from this reader and deeper insight into this woman. Her weight has nothing to do with anything. But okay, I am a guy. Take that into consideration.

Weight does at least play a role in The Importance of Sisters but I would argue an unimportant one, at least to my enjoyment of the story. A woman who runs a dress-making shop fits a painfully shy, overweight customer for a garment suitable for a wedding in the family. The encounter causes the dress-maker to recall a painful episode years ago involving a dress and her sister, who later took her own life. You can’t help but be touched by how this story ends. All I will suggest is this: You will feel good!

The other aspect of this story I loved, and this may be my own peculiarity, is that it has a definite and visible inflection point. As she is fitting the dress to this shy, reclusive woman…
"Mildred was aware of an odour but it was not chemical, not stale perfume or sweat but something that spoke of sorrow and need, that pricked Mildred with a memory of Jane [her sister] in her loathed velvet dress."
This passage is where the two main threads of the story begin to weave together, causing the story to change direction. Maybe I’m being too analytical but I loved that I could sense this on first read. It expertly presaged the ending without giving it away, or making it expected.

Perfect 10 is neither, perfect or ten (there are fourteen stories in here). And even if you go with the more colloquial meaning of "perfect 10", well, some of these characters really do rate in the lower end of those digits. But I believe Dancing on Gravel and The Importance of Sisters will make you feel genuine affection for these characters and this writer.

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Read a story from this collection at Pewter Rose Press

Jason Makansi has published half a dozen short stories and several poems in a variety of literary journals, as well as one story accepted by the Amazon Shorts Program. In 2009, he attended the renowned Sewanee Writer’s Conference held at the University of the South. Makansi has also published three professional books and numerous works of non-fiction in the fields of engineering, energy, environmental science, and economics.

Jason's other Short Reviews: Susie Bright (ed) "The Best of Best American Erotica"

Warren Adler "New York Echoes"

Frances Thimann "Cell and Other Stories"

Steven Coy (ed) "See You Next Tuesday: The Second Coming"

Deborah Bostock Kelley "Damaged Goods: Narrative Unendings from Inside My Heart and Mind"

David Gardiner "The Other End of the Rainbow"

Ellis Sharp "Dead Iraqis"

Daniel A. Hoyt "And Then We Saw The Flames"

Russell Bittner "Stories in the Key of C Minor"

"Mechanics Institute Review" by Various

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