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    Social commentary, experience, sheer entertainment

    Star counts are hard. Doing a review is easier: I read every word, and make notes. Then I come back to the pieces that spoke to me most. That’s how I remember Shakespeare and e.e.cummings - by the works that reverberated. So now let me give you an insight into this book, and this curmudgeon’s rating. There are many personal experiences. Even if you’ve never been taken advantage of like this, you will feel for the protagonist in The Lament of the Big, Strong Boy, where we find this: “I'd love to, but I'm already seeing someone. Sorry, but thanks a lot for helping me move. Yeah, he's got a trick back. That piano would have killed him. Would you like another beer?” There are several such incidents here, all quite clever and clear. For a moving social commentary, turn to The Bull Artist. You may (as I did) feel both sympathy for, and frustration with, the narrator. For cynical social commentary, turn to Career Development, which begins thus: “Please provide a short overview of: /- family background /I am the son of nobody special, a product of Old World peasant stock. No one owes my father any favors, and my mother never felt the need to go to bed with anyone of consequence except Dad.” A favourite here is Everyone’s In Love With The Waitress Here. I can’t give a quote without spoiling the punch line, which is breathtakingly simple and effective. Wakulich will surprise you by leaving no topic, apparently, outside his range of consideration. For example, The Old Man and the Sleigh, where we find this: “The old man looked annoyed. "You surprise me, Mariah. It is my custom to save myself. Do you wish me to run out of ho-ho's when I need them most?" /"Forgive me," said Mariah. "Once again I have proven myself ignorant of the proper conduct for a successful Yule."” Spoiler alert: some of the pieces are shorter than their own titles, as in An English Teacher Sorts for the Sally Ann, which still manages to be enigmatic: “In the red gaucho pants was a letter she’d kept and thought about fondly whenever they’d slept. She re-read it, noted the grammar, and wept.” If you’re scrolling for the tiny carps, you can give up here. There might be a typo. If you want each piece to begin on its own page, ask the author. In short, nothing to carp about. Back to the good stuff. Some of the pieces are almost mini-novels, as in Coins. Turn to this one when you get this book; it’s a good introduction to how Wakulich pulls you in. This happens again in Her Fathers’ Shoes. And again in Memories Too Big for a Suitcase. Short, easy, poignant, and gut-punch powerful. There are adult situations handled smoothly, as in Helena’s Kitchen, which ends leaving you hanging thus: “And you bite your lip, and she bites hers /as you run your open hand over Helena's /kitchen table.” Another favourite, of which I won’t give the ending away, is Wearing a Dead Man’s Hat, which includes this: “You had a precious kind of pride /you didn't get from putting on a tie, /a resolve woven like silk /through your demeanor.” For a disturbing question on miracles and saints, disguised as a simple narrative, turn to The Accoutrements of a Patron Saint. For a good laugh, turn to Star Trek: Not On This Voyage. In my notes there are many other favourites in this work, but this should be enough to give you an insight into my star count. My personal guidelines, when doing any review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Five stars seems about right here, and I haven’t had this much fun reading something in a while. Extremely recommended.

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