Any regular reader of this blog knows I am a huge fan of short fiction, so any new author collection usually rises to the top of my TBR pile pretty fast. Some of them are hit and miss, but this short, competition-winning volume of linked stories by Gary Eldon Peter is a solid bet for fellow lovers of short stories.
Many of the pieces follow a man named Kevin through the death of his mother, as well as interludes from his childhood and a strong story about Kevin’s relationship with his father after his mother’s demise. Other entries follow a character named Michael, who also intersects with Kevin. But each of these tales stands alone perfectly.
Very early on, “The Bachelor” sees childhood friends Michael and Sam spying on a neighbor they’ve nicknamed ‘The Bachelor’. The caper was initially Sam’s idea, but Michael continues peeping while Sam is away, not only seeing the neighbor naked but kissing another man in his backyard. This coming-out-to-myself story is a little gem, with beautifully awkward realizations we all remember from those days of first times and ‘aha’ moments both good and bad.
I also enjoyed the double whammy of the title story and its follow-up, “Sun Country.” “Oranges” is a lovely piece about Kevin and his relationship with his terminally ill mother. I loved its quiet determination and understated elegance as Kevin’s mother displays her acceptance of her son in the only way she can. But Kevin’s story with his father, “Sun Country,” adds some tension to the mix as both of them deal with how to be with each other during a visit minus his recently deceased mother as a buffer. By turns poignant and angry, this story turns out to be the sharpest, most clearly realized of the lot, capturing a very tentative yet loving bond at its most precarious.
The powerful “Itching” has Michael exploring the possibilities of his burgeoning relationship with Stephen in light of Michael’s recent STD diagnosis. This story also features Kevin as Michael’s late boyfriend. As with nearly all the other stories, this is sharply observed and well-rendered. Peter’s prose is vivid but not flashy, free of clutter, with just enough detail to set the scene. He leaves plenty of room for the reader’s imagination to fill in the gaps.
Gary Eldon Peter’s Oranges is a strong set of stories, perfect for rainy Spring afternoons that look forward to sunny mornings.
© 2019 Jerry L. Wheeler