Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Hints of brilliance


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Little Reef and Other Stories by Michael Carroll; Terrace Books, cloth $26.95, e-book $19.95

Sometimes great talent wanders around in pairs. This is certainly the case for Michael Carroll, the 49-year-old longtime partner of celebrated writer Edmund White (the couple is approaching their 20th anniversary next year). While White has blossomed into a well-respected figure in gay literary circles, Carroll's ascent to greatness has just begun, with a debut collection of stories, after years of publishing in literary journals like Ontario Review, Boulevard, and Open City. The 12 tales in Little Reef and Other Stories were all written within the last decade, and are suffused with crisply articulated characterization and pitch-perfect dialogue. This is a collection to savor and ponder and reflect upon.

The book's opener, "From the Desk of Hunter B. Gwathmey" follows the winner of a high school writing contest and his disillusionment with the more successful authors he meets as a result of his own minor success. This tale is followed by "Referred Pain," in which a lonely wife embarks upon an illicit affair with one of her husband's graduate students. "First Responder" is also a standout, about a gay man who begins bonding with his brother and achieves the kind of rare family solidarity that comes after years of estrangement and misunderstood emotions.

The dramatic and poignant "Admissions" perhaps comes closest to home for Carroll with its autobiographical nature. In it, the younger partner of a gay couple must come to terms with the medical collapse of his older lover, and the opinions and procedural operations of the hospital staff surrounding them. Edmund White has suffered two strokes in recent years, the latest one extensively debilitating him for months (he has since remarkably recovered). The story offers a true representation of the generational gap between Perry and Scott, the story's two lovers: "Perry had been at Stonewall, helping smash parking meters, screaming at the police. Scott had grown up a Me, narcotized by junk food, game shows, sitcoms."

"Unsticking," the final story, is set in Key West and features a juxtaposition of older and younger gay men, with the perceptive, been-there-done-that aging man cringing in the presence of the unforeseen mistakes about to be made by the adult children who "called girls guys, and everybody of that generation, it seemed, called each other kid."

Not to be missed, Carroll's brilliant inaugural story collection sets this talented author up for great things to come.

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