According to one website, Gary Fincke has published 30 books. Back around March 22, 2005, when this review was originally written, I had actually read everything published to date--poetry collections, story collections, and a helluva memoir about being the father of a rock start son (Amp'd, look for it). I'm pretty sure that 12 years late I am woefully behind in keeping up with his work (and he's got another coming out with Vandalia Press later this year, a New-and-Selected Stories collection!).
Gary Fincke proves himself to be a master of the short story form with this collection of ten stories. His stories do what many authors would love to see their own work do – they immediately grab hold of the reader; they have well rounded characters; and they don’t use hyperbole to make themselves continue to be interesting.
Strain pushes its way through Fincke’s work – both in the form of strained relationships with others, most often between parents and an older child, and also in the strain of hitting that wall in life where you decide you didn’t make the right choices if you want to live happily. It is this simple issue – strain – that propels these stories and makes the reader at once believe they know the characters, or at least somebody very much like them.
The title story deals with a father trying to help his daughter cope with witnessing a carnival worker get eaten up by the gears of his ride, and then with being witness to her best friend, who wasn’t coping with the original death well, running through the dark and falling into a river, never to come out for another breath. The story ends with Reynolds and his daughter, Brigit, getting into a very minor automobile accident and while a tow truck pulls them out of a ditch, Reynolds finds a mix tape that Sue, the best friend, had made. He slips it into the glove compartment thinking to himself: “She didn’t need, and neither did he, one more intentional symbol of sadness.” It’s a good example of just how smoothly Fincke writes. No big action or revelation needed – he allows the type of actions that happen in families that don’t choose to live their lives on Springer or Maury to populate his work.
In “Keeping Nice,” Fincke allows the younger person in the relationship, Greg, the early middle aged son, to narrate. His family is visiting his mother and father for Thanksgiving and he is driven crazy by his mother’s attempts to keep things nice – plastic walkways cover the carpet, plastic covers the new couch, and other similar attempts to delay the inevitable.
Throughout the story, it is all that Greg can do to not scream out loud at his mother about the little things she talks about, or the ways that she lives her life. He just wants to walk where he wishes, or sit on the actual couch cushions and not hope to keep things nice. Whether spending a visit like this with one’s parents at a late stage in their lives might lead to regret or not, I’ll let the reader discover, but it’s the capturing of this simmering that Fincke has concentrated on to great success.
The rest of the little gems in this collection run the same paths – Fincke capturing true emotions within varied characters and using a pretty typical every day event or relationship to do so. Readers will nod or wince along as they recognize events and emotions from their own lives. That’s how well Fincke has captured things.