A Perfect Universe



Title:  A Perfect Universe: Ten Stories   

Writer: Scott O’Connor

Publishing House: Gallery/Scout Press

Date of Publication: February 13th 2018

Rating: 5 stars

One of the strongest traits of Contemporary American Literature is the Short Story. A genre that can be more touching and powerful than the Novel when done right, serving a long tradition of exceptional short – story writers. I’ve always been an avid reader of short stories. The open ending, the ambiguity, the uncertain resolution or complete lack of it, appeal to me and this collection by Scott O’Connor is among the finest I’ve read so far. Complex themes, antiheroes, stories that are bound to take you on an intense emotional journey. Beware, though. It is probable that the course will be uncomfortable…

“Hold On”: An immensely moving story about a survivor who is trying to cope with the aftermath, the severe alterations in his life, and to discover the identity of the woman whose voice helped him to hold on to life.

“It Was Over So Quickly, Doug” : A gang shoot -out in a coffeeshop told from the perspectives of three people who couldn’t be more different.

“Jane’s Wife”: Two women go through the implications of their troubled marriage within the context of the 2016 Presidential elections in the USA. I wasn’t satisfied with this story, to be honest. I found it unnecessarily melodramatic and a bit of a gimmick with two very unsympathetic, selfish and absurd protagonists.

“Golden State”: A young mother and her teenage son move to California from New York, chasing an irrational dream. The story touches upon the frenzy over TV shows, the hypocrisy of the suburbs, the feeling of being the “new face” in the neighbourhood. Still, the tone of it is light, bittersweet and hopeful.

“Interstellar Space” : A moving, eerie story taking place in the late 70s. Two sisters are fighting with the imposing enemy of mental illness.

“In the Red”: A bunch of despicable men take part in an anger management class. Jonas, possibly the least despicable of them but not less of a criminal, tries to find some escape through a TV sales programme.

“Flicker”: A story that starts with the echoes of frustration from an unsuccessful actor becomes a tragic research on love, death and remembrance.

“Soldiers”: A bully from a broken family, a boy with a drunkard father and an exhausted, indifferent mother, learns a good lesson from three siblings. An ugly story with an ending that offers plenty to think of.

“The Plagiarist” : A well-known writer of short stories is exposed as an utter fraud.

“Colnago Super”: A young bike – thief is determined to find a missing boy. This was one of the most touching stories of the collection.

These stories don’t need many words. O’Connor doesn’t shy away from issues that are universal, relevant to our troubled modern times, and chooses characters that come from all walks of life, different backgrounds, teenagers and adults. They are shady -even the children and morally ambiguous, troubled, confused, tortured and haunted by the past and by their own guilt. Some of them are immoral, verging on the territory of “despicable”, but the power of O’Connor’s writing is such that draws you in and make you care for them. You want them either to be punished or to find some kind of absolution, a new will to change their way.

The overall tone isn’t happy. None of them is a “feel-good” story and I wouldn’t like them if they were. Life isn’t made of unicorns and rainbows and fantasy creatures. These stories are real. They are grey and sad, full of desperation, exhaustion and pain, difficult, toiling and demanding, like most things in life. But a glimpse of hope is always present, kind of escape, even momentarily. The state of California, its areas, its people, the particular way of life, becomes a character in its own and Thalassa (the Greek word for “sea”) is always present along with the hills and the nightly sky. But the Golden State of O’Connor hides a multitude of coals, in a universe that is far from perfect. A universe that is real and absolute.

Many thanks to Scout Press and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange of an honest review.