Incoming: Collected Stories

The sixteen tales in Incoming are literary explorations of the corridors of the human psyche, some familiar, some dark, all incorporating empathetic portraits of persons, including  married couples, young men on the cusp of adulthood and even a sympathetic examination of the quirky among us.

Amato’s deeper explorations of the male psyche are “Dad List,” “Scarlet Amber,” “Second Person Sixty-Seven” and most powerfully “Camille.” Each features protagonist floundering, pulled by love (or lust) or by the threat of the military draft. Each ring with veracity, and the conclusion of “Camille” is especially poignant. As elsewhere in the collection, there are contemplations of the road not taken, and “Camille,” among others delves deeply into the swampy morass where the sea of love and passion washes up on the shore of hard reality.

The author’s writing is clean, clear and concise. There’s no literary obtuseness. Tales spin out of the first, third and second person and are relatable and fully human. Their action s resonate with the choices humans must make. Amato frames the prosaic with meaning, and generally reframes from postmodernist ambiguous endings.

Amato explores edgier topics in “Elevator Race” and “the Man Who Didn’t Care.” The first is a post racial study on racial stereotyping fascinating accomplishes as a good man attempts to convince himself he doesn’t see color.  The other, perhaps, could be a Swift-esque” let them eat the babies” examination of capital punishment.

Most of the stories are set in the northern Midwest, Michigan in particular, although, two stories incorporating violence play out in Cozumel and San Francisco. It is only in those two stories that setting become “character” where in the other stories setting often fade into the background.

One story, “Everyone Hates Malvolio,” is a sardonic administrator’s take off on Twelfth Night.  One of the more affecting stories, based somewhat on the author’s experience is the opening story, “Death by Peanut Butter.” Where a mentally ill man washes up in a shelter and dies after choking on a peanut butter sandwich that should have been cut into bite-size pieces, the neglect purely accidental. A parable for what happens to the least of us.

Fans of short fiction will enjoy all of this eclectic collection.  (partially from Gary Presley, Clarion Review)