Carroll, Michael. “Little Reef and Other Stories”, University of Wisconsin Press, 2014.
The New Media and Its People
I guess it was about six months ago when the University of Wisconsin Press sent me information about a new collection of short stories by a new writer. One of the things I love about reviewing is getting the chance to read new writers and so a week later when the uncorrected proof of “Little Reef and Other Stories” by Michael Carroll arrived, I could not wait to sit down and start reading. The next thing I knew it was three o’clock in the morning and I was still reading and had no intention of going to bed until I finished the last story.
Carroll writes about characters who, as he puts it, stand “somewhere between being provincial and being cosmopolitan”. They are the products of a “media-soaked culture… B-listers—women and their gay friends”. Carroll looks at the irony of the America we live in—a country where gay marriage is acceptable in many of its states yet there is still homophobia, prejudice, religious fanaticism, poverty and the loss of hope. His characters react to this society with shock and they seem to have no memory of the past and no plans for the future— they seem lost and do not really care to be found. Their lives are far from ordered yet we see them facing life. They are representative of people we have known but can only remember if striving to do so—the kind of people who come into our lives and leave them with hardly a wave of the hand.
Yet Carroll’s characters stay with us long after we close the covers of the book. Even the minor characters seem to be little more than insignificant individuals who gain significance because Carroll gives it to them. We sense that they are troubled and totally frustrated at the way their lives are going; their defeatist attitudes make us care about them and in that we do get a sense of hope but not one that is encompassing. I realize that earlier I said that they were partly characterized by the loss of hope yet that is not totally correct. They carry with them a sense of hope but do not act on it. What is really unique is that we do not want to identify with them yet we do and all of us know or have known people who are very much like the ones Carroll writes about. We might even see ourselves in his pages. If I have to pick one characteristic of this book that stands out for it it would have to be that Carroll writes with a cutting style and his dialogue is very, very real.
Lately, I have not been overly impressed with a lot that I have read and as I sit writing I try to think of the names of five books that have recently blown me away. So far the only book on that list is this one. Carroll departs from traditional story telling in his writing and so reading him is like having a new experience. Here is a book that makes us think about what we have read because Carroll makes us reflect on ourselves. While this is book about gay characters and seemingly written for gay readers, I think that anyone who wants to read good writing will find him/herself at home here.
I could say something about each of the twelve stories but that would spoil the surprise of what they have to offer. Just take my word for it and get a copy and lose yourself in it.