To Assume a Pleasing Shape / Tatiaana L. Laine

Joseph Salvatore’s collection of short stories offers something for everyone, particularly if one is looking to delve into (Salvatore’s) explorations of sexuality.  If perhaps “Reduction”, a lengthy tale obsessing about a woman’s breasts, becomes tedious, there is always “Unheimliche," about a woman’s quest for a home vs. a house, with cultural differences and semantic details highlighted.  Perhaps “Practice Problem” a math-themed tale of Boston youth with shapes and patterns at every turn is what you’ve been searching for.

Salvatore plays with different literary styles for effect in each piece.  The long run-on sentences of “Practice Problem” gives us the breathless energy and anxiety of this Boston web of youth.  We follow each long strand into the next, knitting until we come full circle.  In “Annus Horibilis, or The Carpenter, or Cal,” we are given several versions of a short story about a young woman, Jessica, who uses her literary pursuits and romantic anguish to fantasize about a potential perfect beau, The Carpenter.  This dream guy, an environmentally-conscious, gorgeous example of sensitive masculinity, never happens.  Instead, when Jessica encounters a real-life man in her CPR class, she is so deep into her story that she’s unable to speak to Cal, much like a dream sequence-fade-to-reality of a John Hughes movie.  Perhaps it is a cautionary tale of living in one’s fantasies while life happens outside one’s head.  “Forget being persecuted; she was that worst of all things: unnoticed.

In “Unheimliche,” the narrator, a twenty-five year old woman, explains a dream she had about “home,” a concept some people spend their entire lives chasing. She also attempts to put into words the idea of a home vs. her home vs. being at home vs. feeling like home, to a German architectural student who is apparently critical of her “romantic American female bullshit”.  “… and I get scared again, but not like a nightmare-scared, but like something harder to describe, something almost uncanny, something unhomely, but this feeling only lasts a little while and then I force myself to wake up – an ability I possess that, despite your claiming it to be bullshit, has actually been the very thing that has saved me so many times from choking on the smell of all these bodies.”  

“Practice Problem” is a math-themed story, without the overt OCD or Asperger’s Syndrome of, say, Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company.  The math references are cohesive but not annoyingly overbearing.  It tells the tangled tales of a group of Boston youth, unfolding and leading from one character to the next.  We can imagine each character, and perhaps even know a few of them in our own lives.  The long-run on sentences emphatically tell us the youthful tales of love, sex, abortions, sexual orientation, domestic violence, and friendship.  

Joseph Salvatore has produced a collection of short stories reminding us that one’s identity is not created overnight, and that each experience lends itself to the process.  

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