Trivial Pursuit

REVIEW — For Judith Slater Old Scratch lies in the trivial. Slater has written a volume of carefully crafted short stories with a cutting humor about seemingly trivial moments in characters lives that gradually expose the fragility of their hopes and the fleetingness of their satisfaction in live. Not to say that these are nihilistic stories, although in their simple flat sentences and carefully modulated first person voices the subject matter of couples and therapists and waitresses this books does hearken back to the eighties and that nasty word minimalism. Slater’s book does remind me a lot of Anne Beattie. Slater’s characters emerge as complex, contradictory portraits, in spite of the sometimes too good to be true situations. In “The Bride’s Lover” the bride hires an ex-boyfriend to photograph her wedding. In “Glass House,” a businessman has an affair with a visiting artist at his daughter’s school. His agoraphobic wife will not leave the glass house until an Oregon storm bursts the transparent walls.

“David Morning” represented, to me, the center piece of the collection, another seemingly slice of live story with a series of deft reversals and unexpected developments. The narrator spends weekends at her friends house often playing Trivial Pursuit and just hanging out. She thinks of her friends as evenhanded and happy and herself as slightly removed. Over a game of Trivial Pursuit she thinks she might have something going with David Morning. However, that relationship sort of fails without Trivial Pursuit and she finds another boyfriend whom she finally marries. From a distance she is able to see her friends and realizes while she was feeling sorry for her isolation and that night after playing Trivial Pursuit with David Morning that they may not have been thinking about her at all, but had their own lives going on. This story turns on playing this party game (something designed I think to fill in the gap with strangers getting to know each other, a conversation starter kit) and captures all that is admirable in a realistic story — a world, a way of life, an accurate and unexpected way of looking at the world, a way of finding value in the seemingly trivial pursuits of daily life.

This isn’t a big ass collection that will make you necessarily eagerly hunt out Judith Slater’s stories in literary quarterlies but as a collection The Baby Can Sing was a pleasure to read, seductive and valuable and inspires confidence that realistic, slice of life fiction has survived the backlash against the 1980s era of stilted, cardboard imitations.


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