In Anthony Scavillo’s story collection, characters young and old confront life’s challenges, often without success. “The rosy idealism, which is so common in the American psyche,” the author notes in his Preface, “is almost totally absent from these stories.”
The collection opens with “The Experience of a Lifetime” as teenaged Ellen Schneider takes her first trip out of the country. Excited to see France, Ellen is nonetheless worried, but she knows this is a trip the “Lord Jesus” wants her to experience. Ultimately, her fears of the reputedly “snobby and rude” French and her ability to speak their language are nothing compared to what lies ahead.
In “Kinderszenen,” a handful of elementary-aged students face various problems. For example, Angel is mocked for being overweight; Jimmy Fox daydreams of the home life he’d like to have, then is awakened by the unpleasant reality; and Davy Williams’ life is good – until he misses the school bus and accepts a ride from the school principal.
In “Celine’s Dream Trip,” a long and happily married couple sets out on a hike—only to be slowed by the husband’s old injury from a hike they took as newlyweds.
Professionally written, the stories feature a variety of characters facing myriad problems. In most cases, the pieces introduce situations that hold promise of revealing interesting insights: a woman seeking divorce after her husband beats her, for example, or a man unhappy about being called for jury duty.
Unfortunately, those insights never materialize, and the stories often end abruptly in unsatisfying ways. Characters fail to learn or grow from their experiences, and the conclusions—which sometimes involve characters being killed or committing suicide—seem to indicate that we have little agency to improve our situations, that life simply happens to us. As such, Scavillo offers readers little to contemplate, other than possibly the whims of fate.
Readers might appreciate the scenarios offered here but will likely feel let down by their dubious resolutions.
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