Who I was Supposed to Be: Short Stories by Susan Perabo

by Rebecca Boyd

Read Susan Perabo's collection, Who I was Supposed to Be, but watch out: every story has the power to detain you, catch you, hold a mirror to your face, and finally knock the wind clean out of you. Laced with numb regret and poignant retribution for the quirky ways we often fail ourselves, each one reflects what doesn't show up in the mirror–what we see that isn't there.

This reckoning with who we are, or rather, who we aren't is ground Perabo dishes us in dead-on, hatchet-accurate, good prose. Her stories draw a lens on what we see as absent in our lives, then focus on these absences until they writhe self-consciously, contort, then twist themselves into imagined, re-created lives–or finely crafted versions of who we might have been. These reinvented characters embody now the inverse image of their former selves, enabling them (in contrast to the Looking Glass and Alice), to step from the mirror and be real.

Perabo's gifted prose bestows upon each absence a disparate presence–a subtle sense of loss that is both palpable and sad: "I had never seen the money, never laid a finger on one dollar of it. It was like Monopoly, like when you pass GO and then wind up on INCOME TAX; the money just stays in the little slots of the bank." Once she's established what is lacking in such hapless characters as fire-starters, addicts, divorcés, Perabo distributes hope to them in small, suspended measures and then watches with us as they find a way to rise, transfigured by the circumstance. These hope-filled measures come disguised as adverse situations: one stray beating offers an old man the chance to feign amnesia, making possible the time and wherewithal for him to craft a reinvented marriage with his former wife. And while we often choose to refute disappointment in our lives, these characters grab every chance they get to shed the numbing stupor of denial they live by.

Perabo's ten swift stories lift us from the disappointment that's inherent in our ordinary humanness. Their quirky optimism leaves us with a renewed sense that hope alone can dislodge mediocrity or cast off the dull haze of an identity gone stale. Her stories tell us to look long and hard at images we see, but that aren't really there, until the inverse of these images grows whole and tangible. Perabo shows us opportunities that hide within the very part of us we're hoping to expel and chances we have daily to redeem ourselves, to reinvent ourselves at any time–to be someone we were supposed to be.