I first encountered the short story collection A Simplified Map of the Real World (2013) by Stevan Allred when I got an email from the editor. She is Laura Stanfill, whom I’ve met through blogging and whom I would call friend. When she got to the story that names the collection, she immediately thought of me, and with the author’s permission, emailed a copy of it to me. It was a story about Cal, a young Mormon boy who has a good relationship with his uncle Lenny. But Cal can see that his family shuns Lenny, and that they often act afraid of him being alone with children. It becomes clear, as the story progresses, that Lenny is gay and that his relatives assume that being gay means being a pedophile, an assumption that is absolutely false. I was grateful to Laura for sending me this story, for she knew that I had similar experiences to Cal, which you can read about here: I Love You No Matter What.
But the message I got from the story is what Lenny tells his young nephew after taking him to a carnival. Cal experiences bumper cars for the first time, and Lenny says to him, “You are born to bump, Cal. All of us are” (p. 153). I love this. It means so many different things, depending on one’s circumstances, but it succinctly describes life and the truth of life for everybody. We are all born to bump. Some of us bump high and others low. Some of us learn from other’s bumps and some of us have to bump for ourselves. Sometimes we create our own bumps, and other times they just appear. This metaphor can be applied universally, and I love it.
I love the whole short story collection. Once it was printed and bound, I got a copy and was delighted to read all of the stories, which connect to each other in some way or other. The stories are set in Renata, Oregon, a small town with interesting characters and histories. The stories are linked, some more prominently than others, and it is delightful to read about the town’s residents and their interactions with each other.
I think my favorite series of stories are about neighbors Mike Volpe and Arnie Gossard. They share the misfortune of mid-life divorces. The two men are both interesting characters, but their interactions with each other and their ex-wives are hilarious with a tinge of sadness. Their tales intrigued me and kept me riveted to the collection. Other characters also play prominent roles, maybe showing up as a minor character in earlier stories and then later becoming the star of their own story. Pickles, among other interesting items, are woven throughout the narratives.
Divorce seems to be one of the major themes, as many of the characters are struggling through it or have some experience with it. It was nice to read about this from both male and female points of view, and I think Allred writes a woman’s voice and perspective authentically.
Here are some of the great quotes from the book. This will give you a taste of Allred’s wit and writing style.
“If taking a person for granted was reason enough to get a divorce, there wouldn’t be a married couple left in the whole damn country” (p. 15).
“You cut down something that’s stood the test of time as long as that tree has and you’re messing with something that you haven’t got any right to mess with” (p. 16).
“I am nothing if not a chameleon” (p. 69).
“It wasn’t how I wanted to feel. An absurd thought, given that it is the nature of emotions that they come upon us without consultation as to which of them we might choose” (p. 83).
“If I could have made myself into something that my father wanted to buy, then I could have been a part of his most excellent stuff” (p. 92).
“Before she died she told me more than once that white people only listened with their ears, but her mother’s people listened with their spirits. What a person hears depends on which world she walks in, and if all she on knows is the world of things you can touch, then she never will hear the other world that is all around us, all the time” (p. 119).
Overall, the collection is delightful. It has the right amount of cynicism without being too depressing. Allred is a master of metaphors and similes, and his insights on life will make you smile wider and think deeper. The collection will be available to buy on September 12. You can find it in local bookstores, Powell’s, Amazon, and on BarnesandNoble.com. I hope you get a chance to read A Simplified Map of the Real World and that you enjoy it as much as I did.