Brought to you by OBS reviewer Alina
In this collection of award-winning short stories, men, women and teenagers from London to Boston to Hiroshima to India grapple with the unpredictability of their lives. A teenager receives a gun from his best friend when he finds out his girlfriend has been unfaithful. A teacher in Hiroshima finds herself acting in a live sex show. A young man fakes an act of heroism at the George Washington Bridge so he can be famous. A hostess in a Wonderland-themed amusement park loses her identity to become the “perfect” Alice. And, in the Pushcart Prize-awarded title story, a group of disenfranchised young adults try to make sense of the artificial world that is Los Angeles.(Goodreads)
I have always been lucky to choose good short-story collections. When I first read the synopsis to L.A. Child and Other Stories, I was immediately tempted to pick it up, and it hasn’t disappointed me.
Many people all over the world lead a life of frustration, being daily subjected to peer pressure, family pressure, not being able to cope with the expectations of the society or not dealing well with the hand that life dealt them. The irony is that this is a world in which we are supposed to be happy. This is what these stories are all about. Trying to figure out what went wrong. Take, for instance, the Wonderland (in ‘All Alices’ story): it’s colorful, it’s got pink fluffy clouds. It’s designed to make you feel good and relaxed. But it’s all about the surface. And the teenagers working there are not equipped to deal with it. They are innocent and credulous and want to fit in. Soon they start to change and they lose themselves in it. They believe it, they adopt it and try to imitate it, to integrate into it. And that’s when tragedy strikes.
Youngsters are always tempted to imitate singers, actors, rich people that they see on TV. In Margaret’s Mother, a girl’s hair is …
“streaked red and yellow like Cindy Lauper’s in the “We are the World” video”.
How can they grow into an identity when they are told what to like:
“Dad completely flipped when he realized that junior didn’t go in for sports” ~L.A. Child
How to feel when they cannot distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. Their sense of value is distorted: a young American comes to worship a Brit called Maud, without realizing that the latter has plans to rip her off to buy a tv set:
“She’s fantastic. They spit on people like that in my hometown” ~London Bridge
They are constantly taught that what they see is not true: little black Louise cannot be friends with her Irish Catholic friend, even if
“her blood was the same exact color as mine” ~Louise in Charlestown
Some still try to fight it later in life, as adults, but they are quickly told by friends that they should go back quietly to the place that was assigned for them by society. Some resign themselves to it and become hypocrites and pathetic liars. They are so afraid and tired of fighting the family, friends, co-workers, that they just keep on the illusion and eventually pass it on to their children.
I was particularly impressed with the character in L.A Child. She moves in a world of crushed dreams, teenagers who refuse to be brainwashed, but fall victim to their own protests. She, however, keeps on dreaming that her …
“music will clear the air raise the fog raise the smog and no one will ever say that people go to L.A. to die”.
The stories are fast-paced and to the point. The descriptions of the settings are vivid and the dialogue and interior monologues bring to us the innermost thoughts and desires of the characters. It is difficult in short stories to really build a character, so using the first person, a bit of stream of consciousness and a bit of monologue, we can get a pretty clear picture of the hurt, the panic, the determination or the resignation of the characters.
Penny Jackson is a very good teacher, she shows us the good and the bad, the real and the fake, and in case we don’t understand, she explains it to us:
“By treating us as normal, Margaret’s mother has made us feel like freaks.”
It’s good to read this kind of book from time to time to remind us that suffering is all around us and it’s time to take a stand.