Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Review: "White Man's Problems" by Kevin Morris

Men—both in fiction and in reality—often get a bad rap, sometimes justifiably and sometimes unfairly. While some of the characters in Kevin Morris' thought provoking and beautifully written collection, White Man's Problems, certainly deserve whatever is coming to them, many are simply struggling with the challenges and dilemmas of everyday life, no matter at what stage of life they are, or what problems they're confronting. The end result is a collection of stories about complex characters, some more flawed than others.

I first heard of this collection when I saw that Matthew McConaughey had recorded an audio version of the opening story, "Summer Farmer." I stuck with the written version, and there were instances where I honestly was awestruck by Morris' use of language. While the characters in these stories are mostly average, everyday people, Morris' writing is definitely not. Here's one example from "Summer Farmer" which gut punched me:
"It is true of any of us that, should a stranger meet us at the intersection of elevator and automobile when the chill cloud of memory hits; if he should recognize the subterranean cascade of longing and remorse; if he knows well the depthless sadness of not seeing a child rise into the brace-face, the inappropriate midfriff, the biology major, the bride; he would be privy not just to the naked basis of our being but to our utter defenselessness to the lateral and vertical rhythms and movement of this world."
Umm, yeah.

Among my favorite stories in the collection were: "Here Comes Mike," a story about faith, courage, and family, which looked back at the life of a high school basketball player whose life of promise was derailed, told through the eyes of his youngest brother; "The Plot to Hold Hands with Elizabeth Tremblay," which recounted the exploits of a high school student with a crush on a fellow student; "Miracle Worker," about a lawyer who takes on the once-powerful patriarch of a formidable family on behalf of a former employee; and the title story, which looked at a divorced father who can't stop making mistakes while chaperoning his young son's class trip to the Washington, DC area.

Not all of the stories are perfect; a few (including the aforementioned "Summer Farmer") seemed almost unfinished, leaving me a little confused and disappointed, because they were so powerful up to that point. But overall, this is a strong collection, buoyed by memorable characters, emotionally resonant situations, and excellent storytelling. Definitely one I'm glad I stumbled on, and one I'm pleased to heartily recommend.

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