Glen Pourciau’s debut short story collection, Invite, is a little like high school for the adult set. There is great range in each of his 10 stories; everyday irritations like mundane family drama, catty neighbors, and being snubbed by those you have once ignored are uncovered, while kidnapping, unanswered suicides, and the slow deterioration of oneself lend a more tragic air to the collection. While the topics touched upon in Pourciau’s collection are very adult, the characters that inhabit these stories are, unfortunately, anything but. If this is life post high school, these people never mentally made it out.
The collection begins with Snub, a tale of deceit, apology, and a lot of awkward phone calls. Remember when you liked that girl or guy, and you spent hours by the phone, always imagining what you’d say but never picking up the receiver? Snub picks up where you left off with a chance encounter between the narrator, his wife, and the Crossman’s, a self-absorbed couple with a strange attachment to their dog. After crafting an elaborate plan in order to escape the Crossman’s at a popular restaurant, the narrator’s wife is completely flabbergasted when she is blatantly ignored by the couple six months later. After telling her husband about the event, a series of phone calls commences between the four, eventually ending with the Crossman’s getting the upper hand.
In the title story, a man recognizes a former classmate who insulted him at an 8th grade party by asking him, “What are you doing here?” 40 years later, the mere sight of this man sends the narrator into a self-induced sweat storm. He begins to itch everywhere and almost douses his face in wine. It’s a classic case of the weenie versus the bully, only in this instance, the weenie catches the attention of the bully’s wife, and another odd storyline begins. After she rubs her leg on the narrator and hands him her card, the old classmate charges up, demanding to know what he wants with the wife. When face-to-face with the bully, the weenie resorts back to his old ways, avoiding confrontation and goes sulking back to his own wife.
One of Invite’s few saving graces lies with the collection’s closer, Deep Wilderness. Told from the point of view of four family members, the story chronicles the rise and fall of an author’s career, which directly affects his family’s deterioration. Brent and Gail have worked side by side collaborating on four novels that bear Brent’s name but would amount to nothing without Gail’s talent. While working on Deep Wilderness, Brent’s fifth novel, the tension between the couple peaks when their children, Battle and Whirl, discover a bloody-nosed Mom on the floor while Dad holds the gun that provided the injury. Gail immediately quits, and, 25 years later, is found hanging in the garage. The rest of the story chronicles Brent telling his side of the story, Battle blaming his father for his mother’s death, and Whirl trying to make sense of it all. While Battle and Whirl retain that teenage “I hate you, Dad!” mentality, Pourciau lays it all out on the table for this bunch, exposing them in their most brutal and honest moments, which, when you think about it, is undeniably high school. In a good way, though.
To be honest, high school wasn’t all that bad. There were a few days that were complete gems buried in that four-year coal mine, and the same rings true for Invite. Few stories in this collection truly set themselves apart from the others, with whiny, self-involved characters, but the ones that do leave the reader with a genuine sense of loss and aspiration, desire and destruction. Nevertheless, the lasting memories of high school are the most regrettable, and the same idea ultimately applies to this collection.