Ordinary people in rather extraordinary stories
Review by Grady Harp
The combination of psychiatrist and medical director for a community mental health center may seem like strange credentials for a man who is so very gifted in the art of writing short stories, but then think of some of the other physicians who have found voice in words, beginning with William Carlos Williams and on down the line. Many of the stories Michael Hopping shares in this delicious volume hint at the fact that he has worked in mental health: he reveals aspects of characters and the view of others surrounding the character of a story much the way a practitioner of tending the bruised mind would view the three dimensional aspects of someone sitting on the page in front of our eyes.
Hopping likes the less industrialized part of this country and his proximity to the surrounding zones of North Carolina come through strongly. He introduces us to common folks, people who go about their lives interacting with nature and with each other in a manner that seems foreign to big city folk. The language is splendid, even though Hopping wants us to see the simplicity (and at times the underlying complexity) of living outside the things of busyness.
Two excerpts from a brief story called ‘Grass’ share this ability to be present in the outlying districts of a world to cluttered to care: ‘I could sharpen the blade. It must be dull as Masterpiece Theater. OMG. OMG is Jake-speak for wow. Last summer he stayed with us to earn money for college. He and his dad weren’t getting along. Jake agrees with me about Masterpiece Theater. He hid out in his bedroom with this laptop. Said he was doing homework. Never mind that he wasn’t in school at the time. Transparent BS doesn’t bother today’s kids any more than it does politicians.’ And later in this same story the voice is transferred to the wife who gives a different view of the husband: ‘Surprise. Of all the hurtful voices in the heart’s choir, surprise gets my vote for most cruel. Whether it opens the show or slips up on me later, surprise adds its own torment to bad news. It strips away an innocence I didn’t know I had. Nothing to do but weep and kiss it goodbye.’
Or later, in the story ‘The Painter of Kitsch’, we read the following: ‘Stability eluded him. Decades of manual labor, when he could get it, at last broke his strength. Only in the discard bin that the fortunate call retirement did he discover painting and, in art, consolation.’ Simply, words placed like this throughout this little book of stories are enough to make you want to carry this book around with you to read again and again how simple and how touching life can be when someone like Michael Hopping shines a light on it. Highly recommended.
Grady Harp, April 2013
TITLE: MacTiernan’s Bottle
AUTHOR: MICHAEL HOPPING
PUBLISHER: PISGAH PRESS