on reading a friend’s short stories

While I eat lunch, I am reading an anthology of short stories written by a friend. I usually read while I eat and while I’m waiting for sleep to come. I go through several books a month. I guess that means I eat frequently or suffer from insomnia. Actually, each is true to some extent.

Even back in college, I was intimidated by this writer-friend’s erudition. “Erudition.” That really is the perfect word for just how broad and deep his learning is. And it’s reflected in the narration of many of his stories, which assumes that the reader has at least heard of the great philosophers and writers whose works populate a good liberal education. The characters in these tales, however, run the gamut — from auto mechanics and health care workers to college students and professors. They are stories that are inclusive of age, race, marital status, and economic realities. They are stories about life as experienced by a narrator (and it is not always the same one) who is attuned to the nuances of the moment.

For me, in every story, it is the voice of the narrator that catches and guides my attention.

And that is the very reason why I feel compelled to muse about reading short stories written by a friend whose path periodically keeps crossing mine. He uses names and characters that are familiar to us both, events that coincide with what I know of his life. He is the writer; but is he always the narrator?

While, as his friend, I am enticed to wonder about the origins of these details, the truth is that it doesn’t matter to me, the reader. He is writing from his own experiences, recreating and rearranging them to suit his fiction. It’s what good writers do.

Despite knowing that, I can’t help wondering which details really happened. Did his young family really get evicted out of their apartment the day before one Christmas (as happens in one of my favorite stories in his last anthology)? I guess I can always ask him, and I probably will. (I tend to think that, while the characters in the story are drawn from his life, the situation probably isn’t.) His answer will not change my enjoyment of the story, but it will satisfy my “friendly” curiosity.

Finally, his stories bring to my mind lyrics from “Circles,” one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums by now-gone Mary Travers:

There’s no straight lines make up my life,
and all my roads have bends.
There’s no clear-cut beginning,
and, so far, no dead ends.

(Just like this blog — which, I assure you — is totally non-fiction.)

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