Happy Sunday to you, Story366!
Since I started this blog back in 2016, I’ve kept a long list of story collections that I constantly add to. After a large recent purchase, that list shrunk to as small as it had been in a while. The last thirty-three slots of the year are now spoken for. Yesterday, to help make this list as complete as I could, I put one last call out on social media for books and recommendations. I got a lot of recommendations, and even a few offers of books. By the end of the day, I found that I had exceeded the number of books I’ll need, so a couple will be not appear in 2020. I see this as a good thing, considering a week ago, I used the last book on my shelf and had to go out and buy a couple just to keep going.
After this year, I will go on hiatus for a while, put my energy into other things. I need to hit the gym in a more regular and serious way. I also have a story manuscript that’s about 70 percent finished. I need to sleep more. I’ll be going up for promotion next fall, too, to full professor. Finally, I need to get back to those books I’ve loved this year, books I swore I’d finish, but didn’t because I just didn’t have the time.
I may even read a novel.
After wrapping up a Two-Timers Week yesterday, I continue on for those last thirty-three entries of the year. Today I read from Nickalus Rupert‘s brand-new collection, Bosses of Light and Sound, out from Willow Springs Books as the winner of their most recent Spokane Prize for Short Fiction. I’ve read a story or two of Rupert’s in the past, namely a short he put in SmokeLong Quarterly a few years back. As always, I’m happy to to have an entire collection in hand, to see what this author really does.
The title story, “Bosses of Light and Sound,” is the lead story and a good one. This one’s about a unnamed woman who works at the local movie theater, in the projectionist’s booth. She’s not the focus of the story, however, as the narrative is about Kelli, her disdainful coworker, with whom she’s obsessed.
Actually, we don’t know of this narrator woman right away, as the story seems like it’s being told in third person, at least for a few pages, everything a description of Kelli and what she does. Rupert slips in a we then, and a page later, the first-person takes over, still focused of Kelli, though, in the peripheral sort of way. Obsessed much? That’s the gist here, this person recounting her days with Kelli, who’s never left our hero’s head.
Kelli is not just another projectionist, but an iconoclast. She thinks she’s not only supposed to press buttons, but participate in the film experience. She starts by cutting twenty-three minutes out of a Spielberg film, A.I., because she thinks it’s going on too long and keeps her at the theater too late at night. When nobody notices this, she gets bolder, putting images in movies that aren’t supposed to be there, e.g., Daniel Day Lewis into Finding Nemo. Surprisingly, nobody notices for quite some time, not even Tina, their slightly older and considerably more alcoholic manager. The women even come to the theater when not working, just to alter the reels.
Eventually, Tina figures it out and confronts Kelli and our narrator about the messed-up films. Tina is really after the narrator—could she be intimidated by the much more confident Kelli?—but Kelli stands up and takes the fall for her actions, resulting in both women being fired. And just like that, Kelli is out the narrator’s life, leaving her to tell this tale, so many years later.
“Spy Car” is probably my favorite story of those I read, about these two guys, Walt and André, who used to be best friends until Walt stole André’s wife, Rosella. That marriage didn’t last, either, and six months after, Walt meets André for lunch to apologize. He sees that André has bought a new car, a “spy car,” a mock-up of Bond’s car from Goldeneye. The car is clearly patched together from an old Plymouth, but does seem to have gadgets like a smokescreen and oil tracks, which André demonstrates in a crazy fury. The two decide to scope out Rosella’s house, just to see her with her new husband—her and André’s therapist, Maynard. Rosella discovers them watching her, but is glad to see them and goes with the two for a ride, where the trio hashes out what happened and why. Unfortunately for Walt, he finds one more Bond device in the car, the seat ejector, and ends the story by going for a ride.
The third story I read, I have to say, is pretty polarizing for me. It’s called “Aunt Job,” and on one hand, is a fun and creative story, and on the other, I wonder how this story got published. This one takes place in an alternate world, one where boys, on their fourteenth birthday, go through a coming-of-age ceremony of sorts, one that crosses them into manhood. The ceremony? An aunt from their mom’s side gives him a hand job. To make it even more weird, it’s done in front of the whole family, and often, it’s also recorded and/or livestreamed (though a screen blocks out the actual intimate details). The story might be commenting on bizarre customs and how they can stick around—think “The Lottery”—and/or it might be a metaphor for the strange and terrible mystery that is sex for a boy that age. It’s also well written and entertaining to see this kid fret over this weird custom, following him in the days leading up to his birthday. But, yeah, it’s a weird plotline to have to think about, and not weird in the way I usually like weird. Rupert even admits, via his characters, that if the situation was gender-reversed—an uncle servicing a young niece—we wouldn’t be having this conversation because that story wouldn’t exist. Do I recommend you read this to judge for yourself? Well, it never hurts to read anything, I believe, and I’ll leave it at that.
I do like what I’ve read in Nickalus Rupert’s debut collection, Bosses of Light and Sound. His stories read as well as any stories I’ve had this year. One kind of gives me the heebie jeebies, sure, but this is a good book, one that puts his obvious talents on display.