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 mirrorwhat 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 livesor 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.
prose bestows upon each absence a disparate presencea 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 timeto be someone we were supposed to be.