Winner of the Many Voices Project Competition by New Rivers Press, this collection of linked short stories follows Michael Dolin, a gay man whose life and loves are shaped by the AIDS crisis, Midwestern social strictures, and limiting expectations for men.
Gary Eldon Peter’s debut short story collection, Oranges, deftly portrays the life of its protagonist, Michael Dolin, as he navigates this trajectory from a childhood in Mason City, Iowa to adulthood in Minneapolis. The linked short-story form frees Peter to quilt together the story of Michael’s life without the constraint of an extended linear timeline ... The strongest moments in Oranges appear quiet at first, then reveal themselves to be the most dramatic ... This is an author who clearly has an intimate yet objective relationship with his characters; he presents them simply. Their relationships are complicated but their lives are not fancy ... Although the book covers some 40 years, from the 1960s to 2000s, it does not feel burdened with historical context or some overarching message about the changing of the times. It is simply a life lived. Reading Oranges, we watch a man grow up and change and stay the same, endure losses and victories of the heart, and we feel more whole ourselves for having read it.
There’s a Minnesota niceness to the stories in this debut collection ... This can push them occasionally into cloying, lessons-learned territory better suited to YA fiction. The tone throughout is sincere, gentle, intimate, heartfelt. But don’t worry: Peter is unafraid to show some teeth, find fault, insist on fair treatment, be direct. Peter writes revealingly about things we all experience ... Convincing and humane, these stories introduce a welcome voice that expertly exposes foibles and gently reveals how we hurt and help and love one another.
Warmhearted and thoughtful, Peter is at his best when he’s attending to the nuances of Michael’s close relationships. Whether charting Michael’s clumsy interactions with his father at a retirement home or detailing the sundry ways he tries to brighten Kevin’s last days, the author manages to make each relationship feel fresh and distinct from the rest. The best stories in the collection are those that show Michael successfully closing the distance between him and a loved one, after a period of emotional or physical separation. As sweet as the stories are, they sometimes enter the realm of the saccharine. Conflict rarely erupts across these tales, often appearing only as a distant threat. The stories also tend to be a bit too well plotted, and the endings are uniformly forward looking and hopeful, even in the face of great loss ... In spite of some blemishes, Oranges is still promising as a debut collection. Peter is talented at ho[m]ing in on small moments that reveal character, and he sensitively captures the quietude of life in the Midwest ... From his straightforward language to his penchant for precious endings, the author brushes aside cleverness and cynicism at every turn, and his stories earnestly depict an endless longing for human connection against the backdrop of a placid landscape.