Bad Meringue and Other Stories by Susan Marie Shuman is a collection of short and very short observations of daily life and routines. At about the 80% mark of this 129-page Kindle edition, the collection turns to poetry. Each work of the collection, both prose and poetry, has such individual power that I wonder how long it took to bring such a collection together. I don’t believe a mind can sustain such insight and brilliance of expression over a short period. Who would be doing the shopping and associated necessary housework? Who would be paying the bills? We don’t want to go into how much writers are paid. Marie Shuman’s Amazon Author page describes her as a freelance writer and editor, which suggests that there are peaks and valleys with receipt of income. Former professions such as an ex-bartender and a recovering crash test dummy suggest that not all her time was spent writing, although ex-bartender might have provided a rich playground for her muse.
When reading a collection such as this, I expect surprises with almost every selection, something like cracker jack boxes (of old?). I was not disappointed with these selections. As I read, I like to write quick reactions to almost every story. I have done that in these comments. Trigger warning for those who grind their teeth at the appearance of puns; I have fun with this lowest form of humor. Combine that with my desire to avoid spoilers, and readers will find some references difficult to understand without reading the story. So read the stories and poems. They are all worth it in this five-star Amazon collection of “musings.”
Short stories start with a quote that I love in all its forms by various authors. “Reality is for people that lack imagination.” ~ Hayao Miyazaki. Shuman begins her demonstration of an active imagination.
Mata Hari ***** This wonderful nostalgia piece is about close childhood friends who drift apart due to geographical distance caused by a family move. Each of the two girls copes with a life that does not include the other. A type of ephemeral connection leads one to seek out the other in later life. The story is not cheery. Words are powerful, and as they cross language barriers; intended meanings sometimes clash. I live in Indonesia. Mata Hari, written as two words, can mean “eyes of the day.” Written as one word, Matahari, the meaning is “sun,” as in what the earth revolves around. In this story, both meanings fit.
The New People ***** A question for the reader is. “Did Jimmy go home?” Handkerchiefs and tissues are in order here. This story produced tears.
A Class of 51 ***** From the date, readers should not be surprised to find a tale of childhood angst. My favorite phrase from this story: “After about ten forevers …” (pg. 8).
The ‘hood **** George is going to bring some city refinements to ‘Lardo (Marvin). Hood, indeed.
Gettin’ Romantic ***** Charles needed to spend a lot of time installing the tin roof. Wife Judy thought of romance and diamonds. Charles looked forward to rust. There is a great picture of their home following the story.
Bad Meringue ***** Karl Slater believed there should always be music and he should be someone who provided it. We have seen the expression that there will always be at least one unappreciative audience. Karl found it.
Vulture *****Tyler Vance picked up the hitchhiker Harry and in the course of conversation on the road discovered Harry could read palms and see futures. Tyler scoffed at the notion but was willing to give Harry a chance. Harry proved to be right, at least in the short term.
Sammy Rosati ***** Sammy felt he could not survive life in prison. He had to take the first chance to escape. Sammy chose the most uncertain and never-before-proven-successful escape method.
Farquhar ***** Jason wanted some marijuana. He only had one source to get it. It was the only source his father, a prominent attorney, didn’t know. Jason needs to find another source.
Bad Juju ***** There might be a moral here. Several mediums together don’t make a maximum.
Candle Mustard ***** Melissa hated the Grartor parties but not going to them was not an option. Melissa was never sure of what her role would be at the gatherings.
Family Twig ***** Bobby’s questions illustrate the joys and challenges of joint custody following a divorce.
Taylor’s Tomorrow ***** No one will hear Taylor’s story. Barry Bear knows the reason why, but the bear is not talking.
The Nameless & the Faceless ***** When the boss is away, the mice will play. Not all the baby mice, just some.
Family Secret ***** Florence is ready to tell Frankie a family secret. Could he put the remote control down a minute, please?
Twisted Fate ***** Sonya explains the age-old mystery of the Mona Lisa smile.
Wide Open ***** Connie was a good babysitter, and she felt it was her duty to teach good social behavior. There was no profit in associating with those who would not take her advice.
Elysian Fields ***** This story has unicorns. They have to appear somewhere in such a collection. This story requires a lot of reflection.
Voler ***** It was step-dad’s fault. He ended up giving himself the bird.
Daniel’s Door ***** There is a bright side to this story. Think of the money.
Love-Stupid ***** At Least Tatiana and Donna had something to talk about.
Sleight of Heart ***** Not everybody got the messages and signals correct. The weatherman was correct.
Last Knight ***** Dinah should have listened to Julie about the date Julie had set up. Some people miss the boat. Ari did not have a boat.
Wormhole ***** Crossword puzzles can provide a satisfying relationship.
Eyelash Lace ***** There were a few options when sleeping in her married lover’s bed. No wonder which way it went, Sheila felt she would win.
The Plan ***** There are a couple of things a person should never be late for.
Mr. Clown ***** Samuel Jamison was a professional clown, used to the applause of many audiences. He was not averse to giving some of his audiences a hand now and then.
Axel ***** At heart, and every other part of his corporeal and ephemeral sense, Axel was a real estate agent looking to make good.
Zane ***** Zane was too old for puberty at age twenty-three. But he was going through some changes.
Petrichor & Cotton Candy ***** Cue the song “There’s a place for us …”
In any collection of so many thought pieces, there are bound to be stories I didn’t “get.” This collection had two such stories.
Stories where My Reaction was What?
The Private Carnival ***** This is a cringe-worthy story of a needlessly mean-spirited person. I would be happy to leave Marlon in prison.
I could not quite understand The Big Chance. It is humorous, I know why it is humorous, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the collection
After the stories come the poems. I won’t comment on them. Poems are an expression and interpretation by the author. No one can improve on the author’s intent. I greatly enjoyed the poems that followed and recommend the section to all. The selection of poems is preceded by another great quote. “Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” ~ Carl Sandburg
I will read more by this author. I highly recommend (five-star plus) this collection. This is available as a free read on Kindle Unlimited.