In curiously urgent conversations, Micah Perks’ narrators dissolve reader’s defenses in her new book of short stories, True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape. Unravelling their intergrown lives in a Santa Cruz of the mind, Perks’ opinionated minions beckon. And we are reeled in.
“There once was a man who longed for a child” is a magic realist fairytale, a gem of unlikely strategies for making dreams come true. In another story, the confident and bossy subject of “To my best friend who hates me” struts her way through another woman’s life, alternately loving, hating, mocking, and praising her—all the while stealing her husband. Bits of prose so breathtaking that we can barely tell how it happens.
Perks is an unrepentant, postmodern storyteller who directly addresses her reader whenever it suits her purpose. More often than not, this technique achieves its desired intimacy, convincing readers that we are in on the caper.
Characters are taken or imagined from daily life at home in small-town Santa Cruz. Hippies, UCSC students, vegetarians, divorcees, sullen teenagers, and plenty of red wine, junk food, and marijuana float through this carnival of stories. A loose “whatever” culture—as one of her characters describes it—forms the atmosphere tunneling through these tales.
Loser and lovers, tattoos, playful and indifferent sex, and town/gown misfits gather ’round the secret swimming hole of Perks’ narratives. The result is a sense of people playing an endless game of charades with each other. Understanding is rare, confrontation endless.
Recurring characters—Isaac and Diane, their daughter Lilah, former lovers Helga and Dave—populate many of the slices of everyday domestic discord that Perks probes with her flawless ear.
Isaac stars as the hapless center of “The Comeback Tour,” a showcase for the author’s vibrant dialogue. Isaac has separated from his wife Diane, who has run off with the karate instructor. Daughter Lilah, who’s left college for cooking school, returns to live with Isaac, and the two attempt to make the best of their twilight-zone situation. Here’s Isaac and the doctor he consults when convinced that he has a terminal eye infection:
“My wife and I separated over the summer. She’s with a woman now.”
“I can top that. My best friend, who also happened to be the nurse practitioner at my former practice stole my husband. That’s why I changed offices. Welcome to the pain that keeps on giving, am I right?”
“I like to think of divorce as an opportunity.”
“Oh, are you on Tinder or one of those? I tried that and let me tell you I’d rather have surgery sans anesthesia, you know what I mean?”
The opening of “To My Best Friend Who Hates Me” is classic Perks. “I keep thinking about the things you said when you called, Lucille. I’m not talking about the part where you said ugly shoes. I’m talking about the other parts, where you said that I was a lying whore, and you wish were dead. You know very well I’m a no-nonsense, get-back-to-work kind of woman, I mean, hello? I’m a nurse practitioner (I know you’ve always thought you were better than me because you’ve got the MD, but it just means you have to work longer hours and pay exorbitant insurance.)”
In uncensored inner monologues and whiplash conversations, Perks offers tart glimpses of vernacular silliness and romance filtered through a laidback haze of attitude. The best pieces in the book reward multiple readings, and may or may not convince the reader that true love is the best revenge.
Micah Perks will read from her book of short stories ‘True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape’ from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Community Writers Series. Porter Memorial Library, 3050 Porter St., Soquel.