customer reviews

Family of Sorrows

Richard McCann has written ten fine short stories here, most of which have been published previously. Having read in a gay anthology the last story here, “The Universe, Concealed,” is the reason I bought this slim volume of only 191 pages, proving once again that often less is more. While the stories can be read in any order as each of them stands alone, they are all related, a little like one of those David Hockney photographs where the frames are loosely connected to form one picture. There is the narrator, along with his brother Davis, who is 15 months older than he, and their parents. What makes these tender stories so heart-wrenching is that the family dynamics are completely accurate. I saw glimpses of both my parents and my brother in these characters, the competition between children for their parents’ love and approval, the difficulties of growing up, the death of a parent or sibling– and you don’t have to be gay to experience that. The narrator is much taken with his mother, dresses in her clothes as a youngster, wants to spend time only with her, and she says things like he is her best friend, probably not the healthiest attitude for a mother to take. He also wants desperately to please his father but not if it means he has to go fishing with him or search for night crawlers. His father is mildly embarrassed with who his son is. “‘He makes me nervous,’ I heard my father tell my mother one night as I lay in bed. They were speaking about me.”

Other passages– or stories– ring true as well. The narrator, like so many of us in the 1980’s and 1990’s, has attended far too many “gay” funerals. It’s almost as each of them must be the most unusual but oh, so relevant: “I know what ritual we’ll get when we die, I thought each time I looked around the room at the bunch of us, [the narrator is attending a Positive Immunity workshop] the worried unwell. . . It won’t be Kaddish. It won’t be a funeral pyre on the Ganges. It’ll be a boombox playing ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ in the rear of some Unitarian church hung with rainbow flags, like a gay Knights of Columbus hall.” (Surely the funeral director who coined the word “cremains” for ashes will burn in hell for that little monstrosity.) There are literally dozens of paragraphs like these in these stories that go straight to the heart.

The most moving story– without revealing what happens– is “My Brother In The Basement.” The narrator perceives that his brother Davis is on a collision course but cannot save him. This story, like many of the others, is to be read again and again. I’m reminded of what William Maxwell said about good literature, that we should enjoy it rather than analyze it.

Mr. McCann is is a very fine writer.