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5.0 out of 5 stars If Jane Austen was a guy writing in 21st century America, this is the book she would write,
This review is from: Wifeshopping: Stories (Paperback)Reading this short story collection cover to cover it's easy to see why Wingate's collection won the annual Breadloaf prize--no duds in this bunch, every single story is solid and thoughtful and absolutely true to lived experience. An added bonus: Wingate has a great humorous touch, sometimes it's right out front, other times it's lurking between the lines, but he knows how to mix the funny and the profound in a way that makes these stories a pleasure to read on every level. All of these stories concern love, courtship, sex, marriage in one form or another, but Wingate keeps coming at it from different angles. "A Story About Two Prisoners" for example, is a love story like no other, oblique and ultimately heartbreaking. While most story collections lead with the strongest efforts the author has to offer, this one, interestingly, saves the best for last. In "Our Last Garage Sale" and "In Flagstaff" Wingate delivers his best writing--sharp, funny, merciless stories that kept this reader's complete attention to the last line. This is a first-rate story collection by a writer to watch.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great portrayals of why men are commitment-phobic,
This review is from: Wifeshopping: Stories (Paperback)Entering a committed relationship - either in the shift from casual dating to something more serious or from engagement to marriage - is notoriously difficult for men. All the men in this thematically linked collection are stuck at that stage in their romantic lives - and failing miserably at it. Often it's the hangover from these men's first nuclear families - their absent fathers, domineering brothers, or crazy sisters - that prevent them from starting their own families. But the collection offers a fascinating examination of a full gamut of roadblocks - including a long distance relationship, a dead spouse and child, or a simple superiority complex - that prevent the initial spark with a woman from transforming into a longer-lasting flame.
All but two of the 13 stories - the shortest and longest being the exceptions -- are told in the first person, and the author provides great insights into the male psyche.
The men come from all walks of life. Early in the collection, it's handsome young, blue collar guys - a blacksmith/sculptor and an itinerant bartender - but they gradually give way to professionals - a college professor, a law school grad who can't pass the bar, a composer, a playwright.
Wingate has a terrific style. His words are a pleasure to read, and his gift with description thoroughly conjures the distinct worlds these men live in, and he convincingly crafts a unique personality for each of them. The men clearly love to observe and admire the women who cross their paths, but the baggage that either he or the woman carries weighs them down and prevents that leap into something more enduring.
After spending the majority of the collection with wonderfully conflicted commitment-phobes, he turns the table in the last two stories. In the second to last story, a disillusioned and bitter older couple scare a younger co-habiting couple -- both the man and the woman -- about the perils of marriage. In the final, long story, the point of view shifts between the man and the woman, and we see how a woman copes with her man's inability to make her the most important thing in his life. That final story, however, doesn't diminish any of the terrific glimpses we've gotten in all the previous pieces about how and why men sabotage their paths to the altar.
The 13 stories in the collection are:
1. Beaching It (16 pp) - A modern-day blacksmith sets up shop in Rockport, MA, for the summer and has an affair with a beautiful, older, married woman. But after he sees a boy spying on their lovemaking on the beach, she moves on and searches for another young stud to replace him, while he's left wondering who it was that actually spied on them.
2. Me and Paul (16 pp) - A man meets a lovely widow with a son at a hot springs pool and invents an entire separate identity for himself in his conversations with her, then comes to regret it.
3. The Balkan House (16 pp) - A bartender holes up in a cheap hotel run by an Iranian family, while waiting to move from Miami to Virginia with an ER nurse he's hooked up with. While waiting for her to finalize her divorce, he becomes obsessed with trying to prove to the beautiful Iranian teenaged girl who cleans his bed sheets after his nightly trysts with the nurse that he's not a bad guy.
4. Inside the Hole (11 pp) - A young, unmarried couple move into a house and discover someone has recently trespassed in their yard to retrieve or newly deposit personal belongings in a hole in their backyard. The hole spooks both of them - she because she's in the middle of a fragile pregnancy and doesn't want any bad experiences that may cause her to miscarry, and he because he was abandoned by his father and he has a stew of doubts about whether he can stand by his girlfriend and be a good dad to their child.
5. A Story About Two Prisoners (4 pp) - Two lonely people in apartments above and below each other fantasize about how they might start a relationship, while they entertain delusions about secret messages being sent to them. She thinks he is tapping out, for her benefit, a code developed by Canadian soldiers in WWII. He thinks the dead are singing to them from the heavens.
6. Meeting Grace (10 pp) - A young man's engagement to an Indian woman falls apart when they have his crazy sister, Grace, over for dinner.
7. Faster (15 pp) - An adjunct professor feels inferior to his much more accomplished older brother, who is also an academic. That inferiority complex affects his relationships with women, as he alternates between trying to win his brother's approval or elicit his disdain for his choices in women - a treadmill he's hoping to escape.
8. Dig for Dollars (8 pp) - A young man spends his last day with his pregnant girlfriend on a Tampa beach before she flies home to Germany, and he desperately needs to know if she wants him as part of her, and their baby's, future.
9. Bill (21 pp) - A law-school grad breaks up with his fiancée because she can't understand his obsession with buying vintage clothes, and then he becomes obsessed with the old country doctor whose clothes he keeps buying at a flea market.
10. Three A.M. Ambulance Driver (7 pp) - A man meets a female ambulance driver in an all-night burrito shop and hopes to make a connection by telling her about his job teaching people how to emote - a strategy he is sure can cure them of all their illnesses.
11. Knuckles (17 pp) - A composer befriends a grieving widow through her golden retriever, Knuckles, but loses patience when she can't stop using the dog to help her pay tribute to her late husband and son, who died in a car crash.
12. Our Last Garage Sale (12 pp) - A young couple get a frightening look at what their future might look like when the older, richer couple they've been carpooling with invite them to a garage sale. The older couple is on the verge of a divorce and the soon-to-be ex-husband and wife each try to sell, out of spite, the other's precious belongings at ridiculously discounted prices.
13. In Flagstaff (34 pp) - A playwright and his fiancée travel to their hometown to attend his uncle's funeral, but an old boyfriend of the woman's older sister makes her realize how dissatisfied she is with her current relationship and opens her eyes to the possibility of something more.
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Wifeshopping: Stories by Steven Wingate (Paperback - July 1, 2008)