Written by The Austin Review Staff
In a pristinely designed, 5x7 book of 152 pages, Nicholas Grider’s collection of stories, Misadventure, accomplishes something difficult and rare: it explores relationships, human nature, sexuality, and eccentricity with writing that is engaging and refined, yet intrepid in the best of ways. Grider engages his readers with lovely, precise prose aimed squarely at these complex topics, while intrepidly utilizing daring, avant-garde style and form.
Take for instance the first few lines of the collection’s opening piece, “Millions of Americans Are Strange:”
Millions of Americans do strange or extreme things without quite being able to articulate why. Gary can’t quite articulate why he does a lot of things. When George ties Gary to the chair, he promises Gary he won’t get bored. On the phone, George reassures his former lover Allen that their breakup had nothing to do with Allen never wanting to go anywhere or do anything. Allen is an agoraphobic. Agoraphobia is a condition that can be debilitating and affects millions of Americans. Sometimes people from all walks of life can be afraid that if they go out into the throng they might somehow vanish. Millions of Americans disappear every year and are never found and after long periods are presumed dead.
Or this section:
Millions of Americans die each year from complications from alcoholism. Derek is an alcoholic whose favorite cover song is Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and when he gets drunk he sometimes asks Kelly to tie him to a kitchen chair and break his phone and cut his hair.
Or the closing lines of the story:
Millions of Americans tilt their heads back and close their eyes and scream. Millions of Americans don’t even have a reason. Millions of Americans do.
Grider is a master at placing his focus on exactly where it needs to be, almost surgically zooming in and out to create a startling effect that leaves the reader gasping for air. Grider swiftly reveals just how personal and yet not unique being a human can be. His writing is clever, witty, and playful, but it isn’t soft around the edges. It hits you in the face with its poignancy.
Another interesting feature of the book—Misadventure’s cover claims that Grider “challenges the conventional gay narrative.” Though true, it is far more interesting (albeit more difficult to distill onto a cover) how this is done. Even when writing in a first person or nonobjective third person form, Grider makes it especially easy to place oneself into his story’s narrative. It’s as if several of his protagonists have the ability to transform into blank canvases, allowing us readers to project our own experiences about masculinity and examine its ambiguous or conflicting notions. In this way, to the extent one would choose to call the narrative a gay one at all, it is self-defined and not offered with any preconceived or easy conclusions. Within the confines of each story, we are left to consider how masculine roles affect the characters and their interactions.
Grider’s closing story, “Cowboys,” is particularly adept at presenting a complicated, masculine relationship without drawing an easy conclusion. In this story, two lifelong male friends participate from childhood into early adulthood in a game of tying and escape. An easy conclusion to draw, but one that would belie Grider’s intention and textured writing, would be to call the men’s activities a drawn out form of purely sexual bondage. But, their game and relationship is so emotionally fraught, so personal, that any simple answer would not only be incorrect, but it also would risk trivializing the depth of the story. Their relationship transcends sexuality. What creates this complexity is of course Grider’s control and precision as a writer, which allows him to carefully dissect relationships that are complicated, messy, and defy easy naming or classification. To Grider, it seems the sexuality of his characters—and specifically whether they could be called gay, straight, or bisexual—is far less important than conveying the need for human beings to be connected to one another.
To form a unified collection, Grider continues to develop in his other stories themes of binding and masculinity, employing characters whose idiosyncrasies we readers can, at times uncomfortably, attribute to ourselves. By allowing us to step into the characters’ roles, Misadventure provides a heightened level of participation and opportunity for inward reflection. Like all great art, Misadventure makes demands of us to question the complex and beautiful adventures that are human relationships.
The Austin-based small press behind this book, A Strange Object, is hosting a launch party for Misadventure on February 11th. For details, click here. You can also find the event listed on our literary events calendar, Happenings.