Joyful, Sorrowful, and Ordinary Mysteries
Author Raymond Fortunato
Review by Julie Carpenter
This book of short stories spins some entertaining yarns that often defy expectations, especially when you consider that the stories focus largely – though not completely – on what society expects of men and what they expect of themselves. Though these stories sometimes look backward into the twentieth century – the start of the computer age, even back to pre-revolutionary Russia – they wrestle with a problem that has become more and more clearly delineated in the twenty-first century. What exactly is masculinity and how can individual men define it for themselves?
The author comes right to this point in the first story “The Zone of the Train,” a reflection on Hemingway’s overtly masculine style of writing and its emphasis on physical danger. The first-person narrator looks to “Papa” for his inspiration but learns that writing style can’t be emulated or bought with physical bravery. Along the way, the protagonist makes some discoveries about his own virtues and gently challenges the notions of what fear, adventure, and masculinity mean to him.
Fortunato is at his best when he conjures this different type of male protagonist, one who is uncertain, one who finds a different path to success, one whose failings are often obvious to the other characters, whether or not they are obvious to him. He is not afraid to make his main characters unlikable to some extent. He’s not afraid to sketch female characters who understand the weaknesses of their male friends and family – occasionally more deeply than the men around whom these stories revolve. Although the last story is told from a female perspective, that too dives into the problems caused by toxic masculinity, drawing from history recent enough to feel present.
Fortunato’s characters are above all ordinary men. Sometimes they accomplish extraordinary things, but it’s always by coming to terms with who they are and where they are. Unlike male action heroes, these protagonists almost always depend on others who might seem weaker at first glance: wives, elderly men, women they meet at work or in the park. They are not rugged individualists who don’t need anyone else. They are looking inward but also to find a place in the wider world.
Though the quests range in setting from wintry Russia, to a European tour bus, to Canada, to New York City, they are all journeys that are ultimately not about a place but about deep self-searching. To be true to the inner guide is more important than a traditional happy ending and the stories take many unexpected turns as the characters discover who they really are.
You can purchase the book here.
Julie Carpenter is the creator of the Sacred Chickens website and author of Things Get Weird in Whistlestop, a collection of short stories . She is dedicated to telling stories and making sure that indie writers and publishers have a way to be heard. She uses narrative, her own and others’, to help interpret the world. She has a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Memphis, with an emphasis in Composition Theory. She wants to bend reality one story at a time. Julie’s work has appeared in Fiction on the Web and has appeared in The New Guard. She is currently working on a novel called The Last Train Out of Hell.