Room Service by Ron Carlson

Room ServiceHere’s a truth about my life: I am perpetually three years behind the technological curve.  It’s been that way for as long as I can remember.  As a child, I got my first Nintendo just a year before my friends got their first Super Nintendos.  My wife got her first smart phone three years before I did.  I joined Facebook after all my college friends were liking statuses and poking one another.  I have come to terms with this lagging behind.  It is, of course, no surprise that I have held off on getting a Kindle for far too long.  My wife has been singing the praises of this technology for years, but I, dyed-in-the-wool physical book-lover that I am, resisted.  Finally, she just went ahead and bought me one this summer.  She, rightly, knew that once I had the thing in my hands, I would enjoy its utility, its ease of use.  We loaded up for a week at the beach, and I loaded my Kindle with a few books.

I’d like to say that Ron Carlson’s Room Service was the first book I read on the Kindle.  It wasn’t.  I read two really wonderful books, Alissa Nutting’s Tampa and Neil Connelly’s The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible.  I enjoyed them greatly, but I also missed having physical pages to dog-ear, margins to scribble in.  Room Service was the third book that I read on my Kindle, but it was the first that felt built for the technology.

Room Service is a collection of poems, flash fiction, brief one act plays, and hybrid pieces that exist in the space between all of these types.  I’ve long been a fan of Carlson’s fiction – he’s a master of the short story – so I went into the book with high hopes.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The pieces in Room Service are eclectic, bouncing from straightforward, character-centric narrative fiction to humor pieces to experiments in word association.  Carlson invests all of his writing with warmth and wit, and while there are few direct through lines in the collection, you are still left with the feeling that you’ve read a cohesive set of pieces.  Part of this is attributable to Carlson’s recurring technique of opening a piece with a base premise – often this premise is rooted in a saying that has achieved at least some level of cliché – and letting the story bounce and tumble along from there, stretching and pulling at that cliché until new meaning is found in it.  Take, for example, his great poem “The Bull,” which uses the image of a bull in a china shop as a premise.  He opens with that image, then uses that setup to delve into the mind and heart of his character.  You end up with what you expected (something breaking), but your expectations for how that happens are shifted.  He does this again and again in Room Service.

The great pleasure of Room Service, for me, was in dipping a toe into its waters now and again.  What I found was that the Kindle let me do that more easily than the physical book might have.  Given two minutes between meetings at work, I was able to pull out the Kindle, read a quick story or poem, and move on with my day, now a bit brighter for having jumped into Carlson’s world for a moment.  You could argue, of course, that I could do the same with a physical copy of the book, and you’d be right.  But I didn’t.  I read it on the Kindle, and that felt natural to me in the same way that thumbing through my old, raggedy copy of John D. MacDonald’s The Deep Blue Goodbye feels natural.  I can’t imagine reading that book on an electronic device.  The physical copy is too personal for me.  The same can be said for reading Room Service on my Kindle.  We make connections with the books we read, and those connections aren’t always logical of explicable.  Our memories of certain works are inextricably linked with how we experienced them.  For some reason, I didn’t think that a piece of technology could afford me that connection.  I was, happily, wrong.

Total Pages: 96 Friends of Atticus pages: 22,458

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