Kathleen Maher's Reviews > Call it What You Want

Call it What You Want by Keith Lee Morris
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Apr 20, 12

bookshelves: my-favorite
Recommended to Kathleen by: I read his story, "Testimony" in In A Public Space and have looked for whatever he writes ever since.
Recommended for: most readers, especially readers that like short stories
I own a copy, read count: 2

[ASIN:0982503083 Call it What You Want]
The first time I read Keith Lee Morris was when his short story, "Testimony," appeared in the literary journal, "Public Space." I was so moved and amazed by it that I wrote my first fiction review, and posted it on an online forum. Mostly I write fiction, not reviews. But when I do write a review it's fiction I love; if I don't love it, I don't finish reading it. Keith Lee Morris is one of my favorite writers. (See my review of "The Dart League King," his novel that came out shortly before his great new short story collection, "Call it What You Want.") These two books should secure Morris's standing among our finest fiction writers.

The thirteen stories collected here take place, as does most of Morris's work, in small towns with no obvious heroes. Men with regular jobs--not careers--and generally meager education achieve a subtle transcendence in tragic situations as well as day to day life.

To me, the great beauty Keith Lee Morris creates is a magical accomplishment. His writing is unaffected and seemingly straightforward. The prose rolls along in great swells you don't notice until it's time to stop reading--a time you'll try to refuse. His small town characters linger in your mind, forcing you to think and rethink whatever you believe.

"Testimony," the first story, the one that introduced me to him, is a tour-de-force in which a young man, under examination in court, relates the tragic chain of events that led to his friend's death. Told primarily in first person, a young man who was present and possibly involved in his friend's death, answers questions posed by lawyers for the prosecution. On the stand he begins thinking of the questions he hopes they won't ask, only to discover that he is dredging up unwanted memories and allegiances. The more he tries to search for excuses, the more the fault lines in his defense appear. By story's end, he cannot escape his own moral failing.

Throughout this collection, the characters struggle desperately to outrun or deny their fate, but heartbreak hunts them down in the end. The exception is a hilarious story called, "My Roommate Kevin Is Awesome." The stories are unique and I'm cannot give each its due here.

In "The Culvert" a child disappears from his bed during a night of flooding. Everybody in town searches for the boy but the parents continue to hope after there is no hope. Past that, the mother and a younger brother begin to adjust to the horrible truth. The father, however, finds ways to bolster an outlandish faith. He notices missing books, more in fact than the boy could have carried at once. The father's intuition, dreams, and even his pulse reassure him. Of course, his mind works overtime, all the time, to deny the worst. Long after the flood has receded in the town's memory, he thinks:

"That time when you arrived home to find that he wasn't in the car seat, and you felt sick momentarily--it turned out,
upon a second's reflection, that you hadn't taken him in the car to begin with. There he was in the window of the house,
waving at you, and you were almost overcome with tears. And so you shouldn't panic now, not now, because this is
is just another one of those occasions."

The laugh out loud story, "My Roommate Kevin is Awesome," presents a pair of college roommates enjoying a fantasy week unbound by the laws of time and space, because they later conjecture: Kevin had become "more monumentally bored than any other person in the history of the world."

Grounded in the mundane, the stories in "Call It What You Will" sometimes turn surreal. The collection is unsettling and as real as the anxiety of being alive, and by the same measure, bestows a unique pleasure.
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