In his previous excellent venture, ‘Geometers Of Intellect’, Steve Sangirardi provided some of his takes on the world through the lenses of religion, the literary classics and the everyday. Many of these takes related to the complex and uncomfortable counter and cross currents of marital and family life.
In his new set of seven stories, ‘Life On The Planet’, those same lenses are applied to focus on obsession, specifically obsessive self-destruction. Even more specifically, given that there are seven of them and that Steve is devoutly, if lapsedly, religious, there is probably some correlation of these tales with sins recognised by the Roman Catholic Church. Let us see: competition and wrath, lusting after another man’s wife, honouring thy mother and thy father, jealousy, pride, honouring thy god, discouragement and anger. I can’t quite pin the schema down to the mortal sins alone, but if you mix in and match a few venials you are sort of there.
Anyway, these stories are about a lot more than the flighty bee in the bonnet. These critters have burrowed deep inside the victim’s cerebral cortex and they’re not stopping at mild self-denigration. They are the moral version of what was said to have happened to a few female fashion victims of the 1960s when they kept their lacquered beehive hairdos in place for too long – the termites got inside and ended up drilling through their skulls and into their brains. Boy can these guys torture themselves (and others as well), deeper and deeper and deeper.
In ‘Murphy vs. Clarke’ two black families move into a white neighbourhood and start up a vicious contest where they vie academic and material / physical achievement right up to the inevitably explosive conclusion. In the ‘Second Book Of Kings’, Elisha wonders whether the only way to rid himself of the mutual temptation of a married woman is to give into her. In ‘Mother and Daughter’, the daughter goes through the turmoil of cringing, relief and more cringing at the public behaviour of her mother. As we tell our boys “Up until the age of ten, your job is to embarrass us; after the age of ten, our job is to embarrass you.” In ‘The New Life Of Michael Cassio’ the wraith of Iago, or at least his nephew, calls by to make Cassio fear for the integrity of his wife in the face of such a handsome and unscrupulous man. In ‘Orpheus Aging’ the old man really could have got the girl (a voluptuous and sporty goddess indeed) but fears that he is no longer worthy of her or, more to the point, a match for her. In ‘Dido and Aeneas’, Aeneas has to choose between the adoration of his wife and obedience to his god. And finally, in ‘Inverse Proportion’, the leading character, discouraged by his perceptions of his own failures and fearing that he is being taken for granted by others, whittles away at the characters of those others.
As you will have gathered, there is a marked absence of belly laughs in this set, but there are many playful ideas and many more felicitous phrasings. The writing is rich and smooth and unctuous in the properly creamy sense of the word, and Steve keeps diving into those details until he has that old Devil fully exposed.
Great work. Greater angst.