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09-15-14: Alan Cheuse Reveals 'An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories'

Infinite Worlds Within

We exist in a universe of our own invention. No matter how much we might like to think ourselves creatures of a "real world," reacting to forces that are beyond our control, pragmatic handlers of day-to-day issues and ideas, the fact of the matter is that our blinkered vision is very much the sum of who we are. Getting outside our own perspective is yet another invention.

With 'An Authentic Captain Marvel Ring and Other Stories' Alan Cheuse manages to take readers outside their own hads and into worlds and lives that might as well be those of Martians. The stories here take us so very much there, into lives we'd never think to imagine. Cheuse uses the economy of the form to extract the maximum strength from what often seems to be an unfortunately well-informed understanding of how those other than himself and those perhaps very much like himself live. Happily, he's an equal opportunity explorer, and there's a lot of humor to be found here amidst the darker understandings.

The title story is an invocation of sorts, an invitation in a mind that imagines other minds and how they see the world. It evokes the fantastic worlds that live within us all. The stories that follow explore those worlds and fid a variety that's entertaining and occasionally painful as humanity itself. Cheuse has the means to channel voices; take for example the story he reads in our conversation, "Nailed," about a middle-aged man who takes his girlfriend to get a pedicure and decides to get one himself. He manages the neat trick of being hilarious while he's being almost painfully honest — about his character.

But Cheuse is also happy to venture well outside his own comfort zone. In his novel, 'To Catch the Lghtning,' he looked into the soul of photographer Edward Curtis. Here, in "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico," he looks into Ansel Adams' life. In "Gribnis," you'll find a great recipe for onions and a fine story of family. In "Days Given Over to Travel," Cheuse imagines mother's dying thoughts, a heart-wrenching fantasia of language. Cheuse re-writes, or fills in the cracks of history with his picture of a bawdy, funny Ben Franklin in "Ben in Amboy."

The key to Cheuse's power as a writer of short stories is his unflinching honesty with his characters and himself. He never spares them the shame or the embarrassment of being human. These are often stories of shortcomings, of those who try but cannot live up to their own expectations, let alone those of others. That honesty proves to be refreshing, an embrace of humanity as it is, an embrace of people as they are. The marvels to be found here are those we may see, indeed those we may be in any moment of our lives. Our ability to invent and re-invent ourselves is nothing less than our own personal key to infinity.



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