If you’re looking for a break from the tensions in today’s political climate, pick up a copy of Timmy Waldron’s new book, Stories for People Who Watch TV. He’s compiled nine stories, eight of which have already risen to the top of slush piles to be published in literary magazines. The ninth might also stand a good chance, so let’s start with that one, titled “Ouroboros.”
In Waldron’s story, Nate Butler’s artistic neighbor, Mr. Patterson, is in trouble. “Just as Nate thought, I hope he doesn’t have a heart attack, Mr. Patterson grabbed his left bicep and fell into his easel.” At the same time, Nate’s wife, Mackenzie says, “My water broke.” Fast forward to four-month-old baby Douglas, a turtle shaped toy that projects blue light, and the partying neighbors who bought the Patterson’s house. Then add to the mix an online bestiality post, drugs, and a little alchemy for a catchy read.
Some of Waldron’s other stories circle around marriages in a less magical way, though they appear no less in tatters. In “Replay,” for example, we meet Keith who was married to Christine who is now married to rich Marty. Keith and Christine’s daughter Sarah lives with Christine and Marty. The “replay” of the story’s title is a videotape of one of Sarah’s field hockey games. But it could also be a replay of adult relationships, and the maxim that it is not always wise to mix new partners with exes.
Another story dealing with extended families takes place at a gathering at the deceased Grand-Pop’s shore house in “Beachfront.” As relatives and others begin to arrive, the narrator describes his father:
Dad, with his hair darker than it was when we were little, is the last one to show. He’s with his girlfriend Victoria and their new baby, Star. Victoria holds Star like a barrier between us and her, as if the fact that she is our half-sister might matter to us.
Family funny business continues in “Some Other Kind of Apocalypse.” The husband in this case is resentful of his perceived rigors of family life. Leave it to temptation at work to enter the picture:
I didn’t want to leave my wife and son just because Tara was hot, or that I didn’t love my wife, or hated being a dad. It was because of the everyday shit. I just couldn’t take the everyday anymore.
After Tara sends him increasingly sexy photos of herself while he’s out drinking, he sums up his late arrival home in a script that might be familiar to some readers:
When I got home, me and the wife got right into it. But it was late, and the kid had already gone down so we did the thing where we whisper yelled at one another and made big hand gestures.
“High-Test” presents yet a different family setup wherein thirty-year-old Glenn still lives with his parents. During a night of drinking at Andy’s Airport Inn, Glenn spots a pregnant girl named Jenny in the parking lot swaying:
back and forth, dancing without music [ . . . ] her sweat jacket was open in the front, exposing her maternal belly. [ . . . ]As she danced, she lifted a tallboy in a paper bag off the hood of the car and took a pull. Glen thought about how easy it should be to feel superior to a person like that, but it wasn’t coming easily to him. She danced with the confidence of someone who was impervious to other people’s judgment. He envied that.
When Jenny’s friend shows up and offers Glenn a night he’ll remember, Glenn jumps at the chance. From there, you just know something bad will happen.
Waldrop’s second short story collection, “Stories for People Who Watch TV,” is highly readable and entertaining, in no small part due to his talent for capturing millennials’ takes on life.