This collection of thirteen short stories runs a delightfully wide gamut of scenarios ranging from military base to home base, suburbia to disturbia, and more. Each chapter is a tableaux vivant showing but a sliver of the whole, but nevertheless drew me into the thick of the characters’ lives. What is most striking about this work is that it reads more like intimate letters—almost like confessions—written to and about friends, family, lovers.
Given how short these stories are, Pomfret really does do a fantastic job of bringing in the reader and making them feel included. I liked starting each new story without any expectations and just itching to turn the page a see where we’d be lead. One tactic that Pomfret has used masterfully here is the second voice. Yes, the second person perspective! As a little sample of how powerful this voice can be, allow me to present these quotes:
From You Are the One, a military themed story told from the perspective of the non-military half of the couple:
I have always thought of you as my complete opposite. But the moment I uttered these words, I realized how much you are like me, at least in one way: we never stop having to prove ourselves. We do not get the free pass to manhood that straight men get.
‘What I mean is,’ I clarified, ‘no one will think you are less a man if you tell the truth.’
I stared at you a long moment: that pocked face, those deep-set eyes, that forehead that could stop a tank. It was all so crazy.
‘I will. I do. Let’s get married,’ I said. ‘Let’s go to Massachusetts.’
I grabbed your hands, yanked you out of bed, and danced a pirouette under your outstretched arms. Your feet were shoulder-wide. You were deadly serious. You looked at me as if I had spoken the secret code aloud in front of the enemy.
That “I will”! I like that both characters say it and they both ostensibly mean “I will think of you as less of a man” but for wildly different reasons. It alludes to the question of what the social construct of “man” ought to be, and whose definition really counts.
Or this from Hit and Run, a slice of life story about a gay father coaching a girls’ T-ball league:
You know what it’s like in T-ball Town: twelve little girls, twenty-seven rabid parents (counting trophy stepmoms), fourteen scuffed baseballs, a stoned teenaged umpire, spring heat, damp grass, lightweight bats, oversized helmets, and one outraged homosexual coach (me) playing better and more nicely at being straight that any one of your neighborly card-carrying professional douchebags who can recite every last detail about last season’s stellar fantasy football roster but hasn’t hefted an actual bat since junior high.
I just love the contempt this man has for these professional douchebags (who you know speak one language and one language only: mansplain-ese) because I, too, know such consuming contempt. Everyone does. Here, again, Pomfret effortlessly makes his characters, so different from me and my own experiences, immediately accessible.
Some stories were painfully intimate. The characters in “Bugged” and “Devils” convey such hopelessness, I was almost beside myself thinking of the plight described therein. The former story is about a terminally ill man taking what pleasure he can. The latter story concerns about a couple, one of whom is terminal, but he’s not the one losing his mind.
Other stories, like “Hit and Run” above and “FOB Loyalty” poke all my rage buttons and make me want to join the local ACLU chapter. “Hit and Run” is a showcase of the unfair social expectations placed on people, even when supposedly among friends. On the other hand, “FOB Loyalty” is a simple, stark comparison of how different it was to be a partner waiting for his soldier on the tarmac versus a spouse waiting on the tarmac. Here again Pomfret masterfully employs the second person perspective which, I think, makes the storytelling all the more powerful.
This is a wonderful collection of works that shift between tales of bitterly disappointing realities of an unfair society and moments of contentment sometimes stolen, sometimes seized. Each entry is compelling with its immediacy and its intimacy. I enjoyed this book immensely because it made me continuously draw parallels between the world I’ve known and lived in and the world at presented in the book—one that is every bit as real as my own, yet shaped by entirely different circumstances and, therefore, infinitely more challenging and interesting and engaging.