Title: Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South
Author: G. M. Lupo
Genre: Contemporary fiction / Short stories
Atlanta Stories features seven short stories of people whose journeys take them to Atlanta. The characters are diverse–ranging from a young girl with echolalia to a woman who lost the use of her legs when a drunk driver hit her–and their stories are just as different and interesting. While the characters face their share of heartache, their stories are also tales of redemption, although not all that simple.
In Atlanta Stories, G. M. Lupo recounts the personal lives of seemingly everyday people, but within the opening paragraphs it’s clear their stories are far from ordinary. Lupo has a knack for creating unique characters and creative plot lines. In “Bare-Assed Messiah,” Doyle Pendergast has a regular office job, and one day he decides to take his shirt off on the way home from work. He makes it a habit of walking naked through the busy streets of Atlanta to pursue his lifelong dream of being interviewed on the news.
He reconnects with a distant cousin who hasn’t left her house in a decade and sends emails to her relatives about the messages she hears from God. Without her knowing, he takes the emails, removes his clothes, and shares his cousin’s so-called messages from God in downtown Atlanta, where he becomes known as the Naked Messiah. When Doyle’s dream of making the news comes true, things don’t quite go the way he hoped, and we cannot stop reading until we reach the satisfying conclusion of what happens to Doyle and his odd cousin.
To make the stories even more interesting, Lupo interweaves some of the characters in the earlier stories with the tales at the ending of the collection. In “Mockingbird,” which opens Atlanta Stories, the focus toggles between Charlotte, a teenager who is teased because she suffers from a disorder where she repeats what people say to her, and her older brother Brian, who has moved to Atlanta after a scandal involving him and the pastor’s son.
When Charlotte gets into trouble and has to leave town, Brian finds help in his friend Claire, whose mysterious past catches up with her when she sees her mom in Atlanta. “Mockingbird” leaves the questions surrounding Claire’s history unanswered, until she becomes the main character in another story toward the end of the book. It’s unexpected, and when we finally make the connection, Claire’s story is startling and quite disturbing.
While all the stories are well-written, some sections of “Mockingbird,” which also happens to be one of the longer stories of the collection, are problematic. The conversations between characters feel unnatural, and the emotional distance placed between the narrator and the characters makes it difficult to read what Charlotte is truly feeling.
This same straightforward style Atlanta Stories is written is similar to the way one would tell a story or a fable, and it’s largely successful in the other pieces. Lupo relays the stories of the characters’ lives without focusing too much on the descriptions of the characters or the settings, and this brings his characters to life. “Journey From Night” is one of the shorter tales in the collection, and the heartbreaking story of Rachel and Cherise is presented more like a summary.
Rachel and Cherise are beautiful best friends who eventually become lovers and move to Los Angeles to pursue acting careers. The girls struggle to find work, and they eventually become porn stars. Having been alerted to the prevalence of the newly discovered AIDS disease in the pornography industry, the girls get tested.
At this point, the story zooms in on the conversation Rachel has with the doctor about her results and her feelings. Remaining somewhat objective and straightforward, Lupo manages to evoke emotion from the reader about the tragic role AIDS plays in the lives of Rachel and Cherise. His success in having us sympathize with the characters, while not being excessively sentimental, is in his ability to highlight the characters and their stories.
Through the storytelling magic of G. M. Lupo, readers will discover the unique stories of the men and women, young and old, who find their way to Atlanta for different reasons. Their stories are hard to put down, and we’ll remember these characters—what happened to them and what they did in response—long after the last page has been turned.
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