We Love Ander­son Coop­er: Short Stories

By – September 29, 2019

Resent­ment, cats, and their accom­pa­ny­ing trau­mas crop up again and again in R.L. Maizes’ We Love Ander­son Coop­er. Char­ac­ters on both sides of dis­as­ter are like wind-up toys — Maizes turns the key tight with her suc­cinct setups, then allows each sto­ry to pro­ceed with method­i­cal, dis­qui­et­ing inevitabil­i­ty. There are no wast­ed words, and it is this mat­ter-of-fact tone along with clear, clipped sen­tences that dri­ve Maizes’ tales. Most of the sto­ries deal with the direct after­math of trau­ma or hurt, and it is in this imme­di­a­cy that we get to know the char­ac­ters. Or at the very least, we get to know them at their low­est — for often Maizes’ char­ac­ters are not giv­en much life beyond these brief and dis­tress­ing moments.

Maizes’ inter­est lies in what fol­lows upheaval(s), and she seems to sug­gest we can be good if allowed to chug along, but when cir­cum­stances beyond our con­trol inter­fere (errant golf balls, an unex­pect­ed birth, the death of a loved one, i.e. every­thing and any­thing), we don’t hold up. In No Short­age of Birds” Charlotte’s moth­er replaces her dead father with a para­keet, and Charlotte’s resent­ment paired with her mother’s love for the bird unfolds painful­ly. And how will an unhap­py for­mer con­sul­tant, who finds some sat­is­fac­tion as a piz­za deliv­ery man, deal with the guilt of injur­ing one of his daugh­ters? As you may have guessed, not char­i­ta­bly. Maizes char­ac­ters are nev­er sur­prised by them­selves or their own reac­tions, but they are almost always disappointed.

Maizes’ occa­sion­al dips into mag­i­cal real­ism fit in seam­less­ly in this series of bizarre premis­es. In Tat­too”, a tat­too artist is capa­ble of appear­ance-alter­ing work. The series of rapid fire plot devel­op­ments takes you some­where unex­pect­ed but ends in sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty, mak­ing for an unsat­is­fy­ing whole. Regard­less, the thought exper­i­ment remains — what if a tat­too artist did work that sur­passed the best plas­tic sur­geons? — is intrigu­ing. In The Couch” Maizes lets the sto­ry be exact­ly what it is and noth­ing more, an explo­ration of the ques­tion, What if a therapist’s new couch had unex­plain­able effects on patients’ hap­pi­ness levels?”

The quirky speci­fici­ty of Maizes’ char­ac­ters and plots are always engag­ing, but it is a wel­come change when the sto­ries extend beyond vignettes to give a glimpse into the greater life of a char­ac­ter. In the tit­u­lar sto­ry, Markus derails his bar mitz­vah cer­e­mo­ny with an ill-timed per­son­al rev­e­la­tion. It’s a cringe‑y, heart­warm­ing com­ing-of-age sto­ry, but Maizes gives us more than the imme­di­ate ego of a thir­teen year-old boy when she writes: He had at least man­aged not to recite [Leviti­cus] in tem­ple. That might be all he chose to remem­ber about his bar mitz­vah ser­vice. It would be all he chose to tell”. Though this is a rare and grat­i­fy­ing look at a char­ac­ter beyond the cir­cum­stances pre­sent­ed, the oth­er tales don’t suf­fer from any sort of lack regard­ing life beyond the story’s moment.

The col­lec­tion is small enough that the recur­rences — capri­cious cats, peo­ple jeal­ous of their pets, ungrate­ful depen­dants — don’t feel repet­i­tive, and instead the con­tin­u­al explo­ration of the same themes feels play­ful. End­ings are some­times expect­ed, but the sto­ries are far from monot­o­nous, and many a premise of Maizes’ unset­tling romps stay with you long after finishing.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of R.L Maizes

  1. What was your favorite sto­ry and why?

  2. What themes did you notice in the stories?

  3. Were some themes car­ried through more than one story?

  4. Publisher’s Week­ly described the author’s style of writ­ing as direct.” Do you agree or dis­agree with that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion? What oth­er words could be used to describe the author’s style?

  5. Did any of the sto­ries remind you of episodes or chal­lenges in your own life?

  6. In the sto­ry, The Infi­deli­ty of Judah Mac­cabee,” mem­bers of an inter­faith cou­ple fight about whether to cel­e­brate Christ­mas. What are the main char­ac­ter, Barry’s, fears about observ­ing the holiday?

  7. Some of the sto­ries con­tain mag­i­cal real­ism. (“Tat­too,” Couch,” and A Cat Called Griev­ous”). How did your expe­ri­ence read­ing those sto­ries dif­fer from read­ing the real­ist stories?

  8. In the sto­ry L’Chaim,” a woman makes a deci­sion regard­ing a mar­riage. What does the author’s atti­tude toward that deci­sion seem to be? As a read­er, do you agree or dis­agree with the decision?

  9. Which sto­ry had the most sat­is­fy­ing end­ing? Why?

  10. In the title sto­ry, We Love Ander­son Coop­er,” what does the main char­ac­ter, Markus, know about him­self at the end of the sto­ry that he didn’t know about him­self at the beginning?

  11. In the sto­ry Col­lec­tions,” what was Maya’s rela­tion­ship to Peter? What does Maya think her rela­tion­ship to Peter was? What does Peter’s daugh­ter think?

  12. The sto­ry A Cat Called Griev­ous” begins with the line, In the end we were a fam­i­ly.” What do you think the author means by that line?

  13. Pride goes before destruc­tion, and a haughty spir­it before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18). How does this apply to the main char­ac­ter, Trey, in Tat­too”?

  14. Two of the sto­ries fea­ture cats. (“A Cat Called Griev­ous” and The Infi­deli­ty of Judah Mac­cabee”). How is the use of the cats in the sto­ries sim­i­lar? How is it different?

  15. The sto­ry No Short­age of Birds” ends with the line, The bird was Charlotte’s now.” What might the author mean by that line?

  16. Who is direct­ly to blame for the tragedy in Yid­dish Lessons”? Is more than one per­son direct­ly respon­si­ble? Is soci­ety in any way respon­si­ble? How?