A Cupboardful of Shoes and Other Stories
by A. Colin Wright
Trafford Publishing

"In those days I dreamed of becoming a great lover. It didn't turn out that way, and in the intervening years, and during my marriage, I've come to understand that few of us turn out to be a great anything."

Quietly desperate, ordinary people crave fulfillment, but don't always find it. Such are the deep life struggles of characters in this richly engaging, literally complex set of 19 short stories. Sometimes characters are thwarted by circumstance or the actions of others. The Berlin wall divides two lovers. A young man who thinks he has stolen his friend's girl is the last one to see that he, in fact, is the odd man out. In other stories, characters are simply not brave enough to rise above societal expectations. They find fleeting euphoria in soul-affirming extramarital affairs or hollow escapes like secret, manic shoe shopping but ultimately remain in uninspiring longtime or impending marriages. The bravery theme takes a twist when the subject turns to war. A soldier who murders women and children convinces himself he's just following orders. Years later, he aches with the recognition that he could have acted differently.

Hindsight is a common theme, with many of the stories featuring aging characters who ponder how their lives might have changed direction. Yet not every story is woeful. A few characters do inspiringly defy convention. The book's concluding tales take some stinging, humorous swings at societal and religious conservatism that condemn weak-minded people to live in narrow boxes. And, halfway through the collection, Wright veers completely off course with a bit of hilarious, too-true political satire. An ecologically pristine, utopian planet is thrown into chaos when the United States begins mining its water resources and U.S. leaders push to modernize its culture. Always smart, often somber, often darkly funny, an overall great read.

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