Toronto’s Tightrope Books continue to publish good short story collections by a very gifted group of authors. Most recently, it was Tread and Other Stories by Barry Dempster and The Colours of Birds by Rebecca Higgins. (Their reviews are here.) They were definite examples of sound literary short stories, and you may add Mr. Kreuter’s You and Me, Belonging to the list. In a little over 200 pages, there are only seven stories, so these are “long” short stories; as such, all are quite complete in themselves.
The collection’s title You and Me, Belonging is apt for each story not only has relationship issues (the “You and Me” part), but also the fundamental need for belonging, either to a particular culture/religion, such as a Jewish one in “Resturants”, “Amsterdam” and “Ninety-Nine” or to a group of music-crazy people who follow jam bands such as the Grateful Dead and Phish across the country in “Chasing the Tonic”. The constant in all of them (save “Movies”) is Jewishness and the search for meaning in their circle of late Millenials and early Gen-Zers. In several of the stories, there comes a point when a character awakens to his Jewish heritage, such as Mark in “A/V”.
I still haven’t decided about the company with Jatinder, keep between wanting to do it and not wanting to do it. Holocaust is not helping. The miniseries is the most complete narrative Jackie and I have watched so far about the genocide: the rise of the Nazi party, the vilification of the Jews, the killing of the mentally ill, the ghettoization, the burning synagogues and mass murders, Babi Yar, the concentration camps—it’s all there. How Germany collapsed into abject horror is beyond me. How did it happen? What I do know, what I can’t stop thinking about, what I don’t even mention to Jackie, my tour guide through the Holocaust filmography, is that if we woke up tomorrow and decided to kill six million people, it would be much, much easier than it was fifty years ago. Our ability to kill has only grown, advanced. Progressed. I’m starting to think, irrationally I’m sure, that this very fact is reason enough to say no to Jatinder. How can I commit to making a living off of celebrations, religious and corporate, in the face of so much death, of such recent horrific history? We’ve done nothing to fix the problems of the world.
Then again, maybe celebration is all we have.
These are beautifully wrought moments in the lives of each character as someone, or something prods them to recall their cultural identity, whether on a Birthright trip to Israel or after a visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
Mr. Kreuter’s characters evoke a certain kind of pity from this reviewer. Particularly Jane in “Chasing the Tonic” whose life consists of following jam bands on tour across America with a group of friends who camp out, drink, get high and then become entranced by the music. Jane has an uncanny ability to remember tour dates, songs, venues and more, but has no desire to work or settle down. To me, it would seem that her talents would be of use in the music industry, but Jane is a free spirit and follows her heart. After a particularly magical concert performance, she talks with her best friend Vanessa:
Jane was buzzing like a tuning fork, tripping over herself in her excitement.
“I can’t believe what just happened! Remil’s going to kill himself when he hears what he missed! Van, were you there? Did you experience what I just experienced?”
“Yeah, I was there, Jane. It was just music. Just like every other night.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“You can be so tiring—do you know that? Always needing to see things in the music. It’s just a bunch of guys playing their instruments for money, sleeping with their adoring fans. It’s just music. The doesn’t always have to be something there, Jane.”
Jane’s mood, expansive, connected to the entire parking lot amphitheatre, integrated with all the fans coursing past them, collapsed into a needle. A dagger.
This causes Jane to reevaluate her life to this point, but she enjoys the music so much and the belonging to a like-minded touring caravan of friends that she can’t leave it and go back to Toronto and a “normal” way of life.
I feel compelled to say a brief word about the stark realism (not to mention meaningful dashes of psychogeography) of the micro-worlds Mr. Kreuter situates his characters in, such as the after-hours, behind-the-scenes work of those who tirelessly set up and tear down A/V equipment for large gatherings and conventions, the independently-owned restaurant trade and the lives of those who work for tips, life on the road, and the expert knowledge of vintage guitars and hideaway bars (and their denizens) that went into “Searching for Crude.” If the author has experienced any or all of these first hand, then he has certainly lived a full life to this point! If they are creations of his imagination, then all the more credit to him.
I find it particularly satisfying to read short stories. They are typically concise (since they are limited as to length) have one or two strong characters and a brief timeline. Aaron Kreuter’s You and Me, Belonging checks all the boxes as to what I like about literary short stories. A very mature author who pens vivid stories full of various places and experiences that rise up off the page and touch ever so gently, the reader’s heart and mind. I’m putting You and Me, Belonging on my 2019 longlist for a “The Very Best!” Book Award for Fiction.
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