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.
Emily, I always value your reviews and enjoy your thoughts, but I was especially excited about you doing the first review of A Simplified Map! I first read this book last year, when Stevan submitted the manuscript to my new press, and right away, I knew I wanted to publish it, for many of the reasons you list. And then when I read your beautiful essay about your dad, I knew I wanted to share these stories with you. Thank you for taking the time to put together your thoughts and favorite quotes for your audience! I told Powell’s about your piece coming out today, so now the book is available online (instead of having to wait for the 12th). Thank you, thank you!
That’s fantastic news! I appreciate you connecting with me and giving me the chance. My life is better for knowing you and for having read this collection! I can’t wait to read what he writes next.
I’ve heard Stevan’s novel-in-progress is phenomenal, Emily, although I haven’t read any of it. And there are more Renata stories that will happen at some point, or so I’ve heard. Thanks again for everything. I so appreciate knowing you.
Great review. Look forward to hopefully reading this collection. I like collections that are interwoven.
Me too. I think that is why I liked this one so much. Enjoy it!
Me too! I’m more of a novel reader, so linked short story collections build on themselves in a similar way. We talk about Stevan’s as being like Olive Kitteridge but with more divorce.
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Great review of a new short story collection I think is worth reading.
Thanks so much!
Thanks for your review. It sounds like an interesting book. This quote made me smile! “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”.
I also read your linked piece, I Love You No Matter What, and I found it very moving. Your writing is very powerful and reading it made me feel I was right there with you. It must have been hard for you to delve back into the complicated emotions you felt as a child when you found out about your father. The ending made me well up a little!
Oh, thanks Grace! I am glad you had a chance to read my essay. It was something that I had to write AFTER I had dealt with things. And yes, that quote about divorce is hilarious and true. 🙂
September 12th I will be a reader. This sounds like great fun!
I think you will love it!
Oh hurray! Thanks for your support, Leonardo. I hope you enjoy it!
This sounds like a great read. I love short story collections. I had to look up where Renata, Oregon and the Kalish River are, and they appear to be fictional. (or at least Google doesn’t know about them) Now I’m curious what parts of Oregon inspired these fictional places. I’ll definitely be adding this to my list.
Yes, I believe it is fictional, much like Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, although more accessible. I hope you get a chance to read these. Enjoy!
Denise, we’ve been pretty quiet about the actual identity of the town, because so much of it is made up and we want to be 100 percent clear that this is a fiction collection, but I’m thrilled you went to look it up, so I’ll share! Renata is based loosely on Estacada, Oregon, and the Kalish is the Clackamas River. There’s a map in the back of the book, hand-drawn by the author, that lists some geographical elements that match up with Estacada, but a lot is invented. He did, however, put “Mr. Allred’s House” on there. And McIver State Park, site of the only state-sponsored rock festival in the history of America, is labeled “State Park” on the front cover.
Ah! Estacada, I know it well. I went to my first rock festival at McIver, many (many) years ago and I was literally in the Clackamas River just 2 days ago. How fun! I love local lore, including fictional local lore. Thanks Laura for divulging your secret.
No way, Denise! It wasn’t Vortex, was it? Stevan wrote a story called “Vortex” based on that legendary rock festival. Oh–and the secret’s out (at least here in Oregon) because the Estacada paper went live with an article this afternoon:
Denise, if you were at Vortex, I’d love to talk. The people I’ve talked to about the only state sanctioned rock festival in the history of America don’t remember much. It must have been one helluva party. And have you read Matt Love’s book about Vortex? It’s well worth the time.
Sorry, nope, it wasn’t Vortex. It wasn’t that many years ago. 🙂 I’ve seen an OPB show about Vortex, so I wish I were there, but wasn’t.
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My personal thanks to Emily for the review, and for her interest in my book. And to all of you who’ve taken the time to read her review, I am grateful. I hope you enjoy my collection!
Thanks, Stevan. I’ve had so much fun reading, writing, and getting to talk with you and Laura. Best of luck!
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