The stories in Mark Evan’s collection Hula Ville and Other Short Stories are varied and diverse but share a common subject: the average person making sense of everyday life. They are familiar yet fresh; humorous, but also bittersweet, with sympathetic characters any reader might recognize. Some call to mind Raymond Carver’s realism or Tobias Wolff’s memoirs.
“Sugar,” for instance, illustrates a police officer finding a renewed appreciation for his life after seeing his first suicide victim. Returning home, he finds that his wife, Sugar, who likes everything sweet, has left lemonade and cookies for him. He recalls that her lemonade is always too sweet. He indulges in the treats and then goes to bed.
“She woke up when I climbed into bed, and said, ‘Did you find the cookies and lemonade?’ I said yes, and she asked, ‘Too much sugar in the lemonade?’
“‘It was just right,’ I said.”
Other pieces come with an “aha” moment, when the reader understands that the story is about something bigger, such as “Dogs of Summer.” In this tale, a man has coffee with his mother and they reminisce about the awful, noisy dogs that lived next door to their old house. The tale that evolves, however, is really about a worse problem: a father who drank too much and embarrassed his family.
Most of the stories in Hula Ville strike just the right note, although the occasional tale, such as “Natalie’s Bathroom” – where the protagonist’s imaginings of revenge go over the top – misses the high standard Evan has set. At times, Evan goes on a sentence or two more than necessary, driving home a point he has already made. Those issues aside, however, these stories are a pleasure to read and should appeal to a wide audience.
Also available as an ebook.