John Caperton’s debut short story collection SUBTERRANEAN LIVING, has a keen sense of American dreaming, with wit and a streak of dark, quirky humor. Set in West Virginia, San Francisco and Florida, the stories follow families or individuals in various states of physical and emotional collapse: from a fourteen year-old boy who makes a surprising discovery while fishing when his family is forced to flee after his father’s physical abuse grows extreme to a depressed recent college grad who finds new purpose when his stepfather is plunged into a coma, to a recovering addict who has the terrible job of putting down their grandfather’s prized horses.
The first five stories, all set in different parts of West Virginia, take ordinary life events to extraordinary depths. In “Akin to Gravity”, two teenage friends in their last year in a small-town high school drop acid. In a stoned, enchanted country night, the pals explore an abandoned coal mine and when they get lost in the dark their friendship intensifies into something sexually charged and ruinous.
In “Tapping”, a failed dancer returns to her hometown to work in a shady dance studio and commits a liberating act of arson. “Ape Shit” follows a family on the brink of divorce on a zoo outing, which goes disastrously wrong when a chimpanzee breaks out of its enclosure.
“The Tallest Lesbian in Pigeon Forge” moves the location West to San Francisco, and a group of dysfunctional roommates during the 1992 Rodney King riots, looking for love in all the wrong places. “Something Other Than Reruns” describes a teenager enchanted by watching his estranged actor father’s cop show TV reruns. As an adult, the narrator and his father share a surprising reunion in Mexico.
In the final story, “Another Man’s Private Island” a middle-aged man and his older, ailing artist mentor get drunk in the midst of Hurricane Charley. When the storm breaches their shelter with a terrifying ferocity, the two men are thrown together by forces of nature and share a transcendent moment of survival.
Other stories deal with families navigating different states of crises, from the physical to the psychological. Characters search for connection to themselves and others around them in a slightly cynical, perfectly realized modern American landscape. With visual details and vulnerable protagonists, Caperton pulls readers into the world of each carefully crafted slice-of-life story.
Eloquent and well-paced, John Caperton’s SUBTERRANEAN LIVING expertly deals with loneliness, sexuality, coming-of-age, and life realizations that take on an arresting and engaging tone in the author’s simple but vivid prose, creating vulnerable human moments that are deeply felt without being overly sentimental.
~Royal Young for IndieReader