Jonathan Harper. Lethe Press, $12 paperback (164p) ISBN: 978-1590212967
In the inimitable Gilmore Girls, Lorelai Gilmore is born into a life of wealth and privilege, a life of strict rules and etiquette, a life that she finds suffocating. At age 16, she becomes pregnant, and her parents plan out her future: She and Christopher will get married. Christopher will work for Lorelai’s father, Richard. Lorelai will raise a daughter in a stifling house with stifling rules. Not knowing where she is going or what she ultimately wants, only what she doesn’t want, Lorelai runs away. She settles in the small town of Stars Hollow and raises her daughter Rory alone, creating a life of pop tarts and coffee and wacky but loyal friends, a job first managing and then owning a small Inn, and finally, even a relationship with Luke Danes, the diner owner.
This was the series I returned to while reading Jonathan Harper’s collection of short stories: Daydreamers. The characters in these stories often don’t know what they want, but they are clear on what they don’t: they don’t want a house full of hovering Aunts, they don’t want a twin bed in “a frilly pink hell with floral wallpaper and Precious Moments figurines,” they don’t want a life of religious structure and persecution, they don’t want to be merely houseboys. What they do actually want, though, is a bit more shadowy: a half-remembered dream covered in mist. Like so many of us, these characters wander through life, hoping to stumble head-first into meaning.
This desire for a bodily transformation, a transcending of the mundane, often leads these young men into gnawing obsessions that reveal the body at its most vulnerable. In “Nature,” August becomes enamored with body modifications and suspensions. In “The Bloated Woman,” Jeremiah finds a dead woman on the beach who haunts his thoughts. The unnamed narrator of “Costume Dramas” fixates on his husband’s new tenant, and in a furious attempt to reconcile a fractured marriage, demands a violent and intimate reckoning of the body.