Wish List
Gerry LaFemina
Marick Press, 2009
Review by Brad Modlin

Aptly titled, Gerry LaFemina's first short story collection, Wish List, depicts characters who long for the ephemeral. Much of the work places the punk rock music scene of the 1980's at the forefront or background. Teens search for spiky-haired lovers at concerts, a pair of independent record producers grapple to understand death, and a record collector regularly visits a music shop to stare at the wall-mounted album that is like a "moose head in some cheesy horror film where the eyes move to follow whoever's in the living room. [The] record's eyeing [him.]"

Sometimes the longing is for the punk rock of bygone days, as in the story "Selling Out," which takes place fifteen years after punk's heyday, after the black leather biker jackets have been placed in the closet "like sides of beef in […] meat houses." The protagonist in this story bemoans his grown-up job as a pharmacist and cannot stop comparing his current relationship with his wife to what it was in a concert mosh pit. Meanwhile, music video channels make false claims about what punk was and is.

Two stories without connection to punk are in this reader's opinion among the strongest in the collection. "Red Rover, Red Rover" begins with a punch: "The day Richie Thompson jumped off the school roof with an umbrella open over his head, I was playing Red Rover with a group of eighth graders that included his sister Rachel." The sensitive and ignorant world of thirteen-year olds is deftly explored in this relatively short story. While the teens play a child's game that is both innocent and violent, the desire to be noticed—even by bizarre means—lurks. As in the previously discussed story, the realization of how precious it all was only comes in retrospect years later. This is a high point of the book—both light and tense, with real-seeming characters facing real questions.

"Eastern Horizons" also looks at life as a young person. Andrea's summer job prompts her to cut her long tangle of hair in favor of a bob. (She sticks letters onto signs for an airplane tail above the beach.) LaFemina shows the importance of such a seemingly small event. The difference in appearance alters how people react to her and comes to symbolize her goal of remaking herself before her freshman year of college. At the same time, she struggles for constancy in light of her mother's sudden departure. Both she and readers are left to wonder how much change is enough, and when does change mean giving up that which is too valuable to lose—when does change result in adding the ways of the past to our future wish lists?  

Brad Modlin's fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction have recently appeared in Denver Quarterly, Sycamore Review, Florida Review, The Pinch, Sentence and Indiana Review.

© Brad Modlin, 2010