July 13: “Another Perfect Catastrophe” by Brad Barkley

Good day to you, Story366! Glad to be blogging at you today, post-MLB All-Star game. My team, the NL, lost, which actually might have a tiny bearing on my life. As most of you probably know, I’m not only a heavy-duty Cubs fan, but I also work as a beer vendor at Wrigley Field. The Cubs are having a pretty good year and many experts are picking them to go far, perhaps to the Series (which, for all intents and purposes, has likely doomed them). Since the NL lost, should the Cubs make it to the Series, they will be the road team, playing Games 3, 4, and 5 at home instead of Games 1, 2, 6, and 7. What days these games fall on might just determine whether or not I can sneak away from assistant professor duties and work at said games; by work, I mean attend, to see my Beloved play in the World Series. Will the middle games fall on the weekend or during the week? Will it matter? I suspect that if they’re in the Series, I’ll travel no matter what. Maybe there’ll be a reading I have to go to (I run the reading series at MSU), or some meeting I can’t miss. Seriously, though, I can make up excuses with the best of them, and I’ll do what’s necessary to put me at Clark and Addison when the time comes.

What I really want is for the Cubs to win it all. Of course it is. But I also want to be there, to fulfill the dream of dreams, to actually be in the stadium to see it live, watch the last pitch, the last play, go apeshit with forty thousand people doing the same. I would feel what no living Cub fan has ever felt before. Today’s All-Star Game result may have had an effect on that, the first domino, the first flap of a butterfly’s wings on the other side of the world. Who knows?

Okay, I’m feeling excited about baseball. Even with the Cubs’ recent slide, I can barely contain myself. Yet, here I am, blogging away. Today’s book, Another Perfect Catastrophe, comes to us from Brad Barkley (and the fine people at St. Martin’s Press, specifically Thomas Dunne Books). Another Perfect Catastrophe is Barkley’s fourth book and the first work by him I’ve read. I got a chance to read a few of the stories from the collection and am settling on the title story, as I so often do.

“Another Perfect Catastrophe” is about three people, which comprise two different couples. First there’s Reed and Sugar, two old college friends, now in their mid-thirties, who live together in Sugar’s family home, which he has inherited. It is in this home that Sugar welds great sculptures, all of which he names Perfect Catastrophe and stores in his basement and back yard, never selling anything. Sugar is a mess, but Reed keeps him together, as the two seem to be inseparable friends.

The other couple in the mix is Reed and Lyndsey. Lyndsey lives with Reed and Sugar. She is twenty-three and has not been around all that long. Reed’s mission in life, more or less, is to not lose Lyndsey, who is not only younger, but sweet and lovely, the type of woman who does yoga in the nude before climbing into bed. Reed knows that as long as they live with Sugar, Lyndsey is likely to leave him, Sugar that big of a third wheel. The opening scene has Reed abandoning Lyndsey across town because Sugar has him driving him around, looking for scrap for his sculptures. Reed is sure Lyndsey’s going to say enough’s enough any day, so it might be time for them to leave Sugar’s place, head out on their own.

Of course, there’s a catch (because that’s how short stories work). Years earlier, Sugar and Reed were doing some logging, and one day, Sugar lost his leg in a winch, and just maybe, Reed was indirectly responsible. Reed feels a debt of obligation, and even though Lyndsey seems too good to be true, Reed is decent, can’t leave his one-legged friend to fend for himself when he might be the reason he’s one-legged.

How this little triangle resolves itself is more complicated, pleasantly so, than you’d think. It’s not as simple as Reed making a choice to stay or to go. Lyndsey is a living, breathing person with a will and the freedom to choose, too, and as much as Reed thinks she hates it with Sugar, Reed’s compassion for his friend only draws her closer to him. Maybe, then, it’s Reed who wants to go? You’ll have to read the story to find out. “Another Perfect Catastrophe” is a story of friendship, of human connection, of guilt, and of love. The characters are spot on, a three-dimensional trio who exist beyond the conflict of the story, beyond whatever Reed, or Lyndsey, decides. They’re fascinating regardless.

I enjoyed the stories I read from Another Perfect Catastrophe. The first thing the text on the inside front flap does is compare Brad Barkley to Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford. Those are lofty comparisons, but I can see it, how the stories’ premises and characters don’t necessarily need some great climax to find resolution, no car chases, no duels, no deathbed speeches. I got comfortable in these stories, just seeing the worlds that Barkley creates, the people he populates them with. A great find, Barkley. I look forward to reading more.