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David Pratt offers an assortment of both experimental and conventional narratives in his new fourteen-story collection, My Movie (Chelsea Station Editions). The experimental stories generate some noteworthy rewards, but it is the more traditional stories that are much more appealing and fulfilling in scope. Told from a character’s unique point of view, the conventional stories present a series of clear character driven narratives that cannily encapsulate small revelatory events and personal revelations that lead to gratifying endings.
Some of the highlights of the more nontraditional narratives include the title piece, “My Movie,” in which a man recalls three summers, separated by many years, at a family’s summer resort as well as a nearby boys’ camp. It introduces the ideas of movies as fantasies that the characters play in their own minds, and hints at how movies and pornography affect us.
“Another Country” is told from the point of view of a religious older woman. She recalls her son and his gay friend who told multifaceted stories in the movies that they made of themselves as teenagers. Her memories dodge and collide between the past and the present as she talks to her distant son on the phone, visits her son’s former friend, and rewinds their final movie in her mind.
“Series,” which reminds me of Susan Sontag’s “The Way We Live Now,” is an AIDS story told from the point of view of a young man living in NYC who has seen his many boyfriends and friends die. The title has a double meaning that includes both the series of men he has seen disappear and the TV series that he watches with his remaining sick partner.
At the beginning of “One Bedroom,” the narrator recalls a past relationship that led to his current sexual obsession: “I played this movie over and over in my head as I masturbated.” As a college student he responds to an explicit ad in a newspaper but is unsatisfied by the experience. As he tours his sex mate’s apartment, he confronts a specter that tries to communicate with him.
“Calvin Gets Sucked In” is a complete fantasy, a charming sexual fairytale that barely falls into the experimental half of the collection. During a stressful period, Calvin is somehow sucked into a porn movie. He now has a porn-quality body and quickly begins enjoying sex with the pool boy, the pizza delivery boy, and the repair man. After various escapades, Calvin questions his place on the screen. The stereotypes of porn are amusingly played out until Calvin must make a choice about staying in the movie or returning to the real world.
For readers who enjoyed Mr. Pratt’s first novel, Bob the Book, this collection contains “Ulmus americana,” which seems to be an earlier experiment in writing a serious but fanciful piece of fiction as imagined and experienced by inanimate objects. In this story, the objects are two elm trees assisted by a mobile and cooperative crow, while the central events revolve around human activity and emotions.
While these experimental fictions, regularly placed among the conventional ones, are interesting, many do not contain the emotional richness of the more realistic stories.
It is in the more reality-based stories where Pratt really hits his stride. In “All the Young Boys Love Alice,” a writer compares his gay teenage experience, working as a dishwasher in a suburban restaurant, with a teenage experience that famed writer Alice Munro described in one of her short stories. Learning from “Alice” that “the best fiction is predicated on hope,” the writer fantasizes about the summer encounters he wishes he would have had with his crush from the restaurant.
In “Not Pretty,” Robert, the main character, ignores the advice of his domineering father and takes a low-paying job at a restaurant at a resort to earn money for college. After rejecting a relationship with his roommate, Robert starts cruising the “Gents” toilet at the beach. Near the end of the summer, several events lead him to important realizations about his life and, like the writer in the Alice Munro story, Robert returns home “sadder but wiser.”
“The Island” portrays three friends who take the ferry to Cherry Grove on a beautiful afternoon. Jim, who is dying of AIDS, and his patient but increasingly doubting partner Roy, visit their old friend Megs. Roy is justifiably angry about Jim’s eminent death, which leads him to question a number of decisions he’s made. While the emotions are all very real, the story would’ve been slightly stronger if it had showed the virtues of love, passionate commitment, and life in a paradise, rather than just talked about them.
The final story in the collection, “The Snow Queen,” is also my favorite. In this coming-of-age account, a young man develops a friendly bond with an outwardly cheerful older lesbian from church. She saves him from his clueless parents, helps him deal with his younger hockey-playing brother, and shows him it’s fun to gather holly to decorate the house at Christmas. She helps him understand that he’s different at the exact moment that he’s beginning to change. It’s a powerful and positive ending to the collection.
A few of the stories may seem whimsical, although they are all serious. Many are sexually explicit. Desire and grief constantly motivate the characters. More than half the stories center on AIDS or allude to mortality. Many of the stories suggest a dark shadow that falls across the narrators’ assorted fantasies.
The stories portray gay men as they learn to be themselves. These men often find themselves in complex situations and, while the choices they make are not surprising, they feel authentic. These narratives offer more evocative conclusions than you might think possible from such small plot twists.
By David Pratt
Chelsea Station Editions
Paperback, 9780983285175, 222 pp.