4 Stars - Strongly Recommended
"Call It What You Want" is another in a long line of short story collections that I have found myself reading this year. I suppose you could say this is the year of "Unintentionally Reading Short Stories".
This particular book was sent to me from Tin House Books when I requested a copy of "Hot Springs", and the description on the inside flap intrigued me.
One of things I enjoy most about short stories collections is discovering the ways in which they are linked to one another. Some feature characters that pass in and out of each story, demonstrating the thin strings that connect people subconsciously to one another. Others all take place in the same town or state, perhaps over the years, highlighting similar backgrounds, a familiar stage on which different characters perform.
In the case of "Call It What You Want", Keith Lee Morris connects his stories on a more emotional level. Each tale introduces to us to a character who is struggling with some sort of inner demon or desperation, struggling to keep themselves together, suffering from a painful wound that they are unable to allow to heal.
His stories are filled with sadness and disappointment, frustration and failure. And most of them leave a lasting impression on the reader, long after the story has been told. The characters tell their stories in such memorable, tangible ways that it makes them difficult to shake.
There are quite a few that are still rolling around inside my head, haunting me.
Camel Light shows how an accidental discovery can bring a persons world crashing down around them. A man, who has the house to himself for an hour or so, is determined to sit on the couch and relax. Before he gets too comfortable, he discovers a lone unlit cigarette lying under his dishwasher. The mystery of this lone unlit cigarette initiates thoughts of his wife or kids sneaking a smoke, to a possible broken appliance that he was unaware was repaired, to infidelity, which slowly drives him to the brink of insanity.
What I Want From You is a heatbreaking tale of a mother and wife who fights to keep her sanity after both her oldest son and husband die, leaving her to raise her youngest son on her own. In the midst of battling severe depression, she now finds herself dealing with the death of a tail-less squirrel who has become a part of their family.
In Visitation a young man returns home after attending a church service during which his mother strangely passes away to discover someone has broken into his home. This young man goes from victim to victor back to victim again in the matter of a few minutes.
A Desert Island Romance was probably one of the more humorous stories, in which two strangers find themselves washed up on an uninhabited island. It details how these two people fall in love, begin to reminisce about life off the island, and how one of them eventually begins to believe the imagined life has become reality.
Morris chose to end the collection with a story called The Culvert, which was the perfect way to end his book. In this story, we find a town facing a flash flood, and a family who realizes that their oldest son is not at home. The father searches everywhere, shouting for his son, as the water rises and invades his home, forcing him to give up and wait for the water to clear. It's a story about refusing to accept reality, and continuing to search for what you cannot live without.
Though the author uses words to tell his story, I saw the characters and situations come to life in my head. He has this uncanny way of creating visual stories.
A collection I am glad to have read. One that I may not have found on my own. So a big thank you to the people at Tin House for sending it my way!