Steven Gilbar, Editor





Heyday Books, 2000
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Short Stories, Contemporary

The stories in editor Steven Gilbarís collection L.A. SHORTS are from the "slice of life" school, vignettes focusing on parts of Los Angeles that donít get media coverage. Slice-of-life authors do not believe in plots and resolutions. They have a point, because life isnít like that. L.A. SHORTS has a consistent downbeat tone, an assumption that life wonít get better because it canít.

One of the good things about a short story collection is that you can pick the stories you want to read. I didnít have the luxury of skipping any of them, but if I had my choice, I would never have read the first five stories. Here are brief summaries of all eighteen.

Eternal Love: Wedding of a retarded couple. Brideís mother must rearrange her emotional focus. Sounds familiar, except that charm is avoided in favor of realism.

Stupid Girl: Former child actress works as Snow White at Disneyland, prey to any con that promises to give her a career again. The ending shouldnít be a surprise but is.

Temporary Light: Ex-alcoholic tries to revive bonds with her family at Christmas.

Where We Are Now: A phony house hunt by a couple pretending they can upgrade from their apartment.

Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow: Teenage girls, impatient to grow up, go cruising with brotherís friends. The imagery is vivid, but itís unlikely they will remember any of it in the morning.

Night Sky: Formerly married couple find refuge with each other. Kay has an anger-management problem and the narrator is dying of AIDS. This story does include some intriguing technology and the characters are individual.

The Rocky Hills of Trancas: Teenage boy as his life is shaped by his lady-killing, deadbeat father. Most memorable for me was the familyís unusual house.

The Palace of Marriage: Russian immigrant couple adapts to Los Angeles life in different ways.

My Fatherís Chinese Wives: 70-year-old Chinese father arranges brides from the Old Country. Shows their impact on his alienated daughters.

Crazy Life: Story pits safety against machismo in the Latino district. I canít believe in the narrator, because by the end, it seems to be so out of character for her to be telling a story Ė any story. Another one to skip.

Winter In Los Angeles: Battered wife takes refuge in LA. Interesting character exploration, and her actions flow naturally from it.

Traffic: An intriguing encounter in that it illumines more of the protagonist than the story explicitly describes. Lacks allure.

The Thief: Thief crosses paths with violent killer in a diner. Explores the moral conflict between them from the viewpoint of the killer.

Girl On Fire: Gang war is touched off by woman belonging to a member of one gang straying to member of another gang. Narrator discovers itís not pretend.

Los Angeles Here And Now: Social worker accidentally brings together two of the people she attempts to help. I had trouble keeping this story in my mind long enough to summarize it, because of the futility of the main character.

The Court Interpreter: The trial of a Korean grocery store owner for shooting a black shoplifter kicks off a race war. Told by the Korean interpreter. This story has a plot, important issues, characters to care about. Itís beyond me why the author went off on a tangent in the last few paragraphs, ruining a perfectly good resolution.

The Spells Of an Ordinary Twilight: Coping rituals of a woman whose daughter was murdered a year before. The premise is that her attempt to recover and be happy can only be self-deceit.

Day Ďn Nite: Bored screenwriter takes in a destructive drifter.

I found the thumbnail author biographies at the end of the book to be at least as interesting as the stories. For example, we learn that "Stupid Girl," "Crazy Life," and "Winter In Los Angeles" all won Pushcart Prizes, and that the author of "Free Your Mind And Your Ass Will Follow" refers to her childhood as "gruesome."

If your taste runs to stories without plot or resolution, and you donít like optimism, Iím sure you will like this book better than I did. Nearly flawless wording throughout creates an environment which will be realistic for someone who believes things canít get better Ė or wants to sightsee a world with that belief. Personally, I would like to see these authorsí undoubted writing skills applied to something more constructive and enjoyable.

Feb 2001 Review


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