“Oranges” by Gary Elder Peter— A Collection of Stories

Peter, Gary Elder. “Oranges”, New Rivers Press, 2019. A Collection of Stories Amos Lassen Gary Eldon Peter’s “Oranges” is a book of great yet quiet strength. I found myself touched by every sentence and that I got taken in immediately by Michael Dolin, a gay man whose life and loves are shaped by the AIDS crisis, Midwestern social strictures and expectations for men.  I am not much of a short story reader so I was surprised at how quickly I fell in love with the stories here but then these stories were written with great compassion, nerve and bite. Each story stands on its own but is connected to all of the other stories. We do not want to be reminded of what the AIDS epidemic did to us but it is necessary to never allow ourselves to forget and as I read the story “Oranges”, I was thrown back to that terrible decade when we all lost so many friends, lovers, and family to AIDS. But at the same time, I thought about how much progress we have made and how far we still have to go. I became so involved in the stories that I did not want to close the covers of the book. I believe that what makes this book such a fascinating red it due to the fact that Gary Eldon Peter set his stories into the broader context of what’s happening today in our world. This is Peter’s debut book and I must commend him not only on his usage of the English language but for the brilliance of his plots. In nine short stories, We get a look at what it means to come of age and grow older Michael Dolin, a civil lawyer who grew up closeted in Mason City, Iowa, before finding self-respect in Minneapolis as an adult. The stories are about Michael’s and our lifelong journey toward inner peace with care and compassion. In “Blankets,” the story that  opens the collection introduces us to Michael at a time he is at his most vulnerable. He was recent college graduate and struggling to balance his attempts to study for the LSAT with the demands of his job at a local hospital, where he watches over acutely depressed patients and his own dreams of finding stability. He had just moved into the home of his partner, Kevin, who was living with HIV in the eighties. The intimate moments the two men share at their kitchen table are among the most memorable writing I have read lately. The other stories focus on Michael’s adolescent years or how he is dealing with his mid-life. We read of his coming to terms with his sexuality and all of the confusion and turmoil that goes along with it. The final story, “Wedding” is uplifting as it explores Michael’s relationship with his new partner Stephen as the couple prepares for and attends the wedding of his nephew Jason. For much of the story, Michael worries that his sister Susan, Jason’s mother, will react negatively to his male partner’s appearance at her son’s wedding, but his worrying amounts to very little. Susan knows how lonely Michael has been since Kevin’s death, and deals with the unfamiliar experience as best as she can, even if she doesn’t quite welcome Stephen into the family with open arms.  Peter’s writing is at its best is when he’s writing about the nuances of Michael’s close relationships. There are no real conflicts here and the endings are generally forward looking and hopeful, even when in the face of great loss. Over and over again, Michael finds himself in the difficult position of having to help comfort his loved ones as they approach death, but we do not share the frustration he feels but only because we do not know about it. I love the way that Peter captures the quietude of life in the Midwest. His  stories are depictions of an endless longing for human connection against the backdrop of a peaceful landscape.

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