BY: A.M. Larks
Everyone I know is looking for a way to escape, hit pause on reality, and just take a breath; get immersed in something else, someone else, anything else because the real world seems too much to bear. And I am no exception. I do it too. Because at its heart, that’s what reading is: a way to escape the world around you, which makes it ironic that my escape would be reading about characters who are trying to escape their own complicated fictional lives in True Love And Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape by Micah Perks.
Perks’s collection of linked stories revolves around a single family and the people, the wives, the girlfriends, the neighbors in their lives. The collection is organized in chronological order and the first story follows Albert Tannenbaum, a journalist from The Examiner, as he tries to wrest a great story from Houdini about his experience in the Winchester mansion. Houdini looking for a way to escape his grief and convenes with the widow Winchester and her spirits in order to see his dead mother again. The Great Escaper is bound by his grief and it is a constrainment that the widow Winchester understands because of her own literal hauntings. The ghosts of victims of Winchester rifles. “‘I know they like to see their plans come to fruition. I know it comforts them.’” How one escapes the grip of grief is not one that Houdini, the King of Chains will judge, “‘ …I have dedicated my life to locking myself up and freeing myself for people’s amusement.’” Escaping may mean diving headfirst into entrapment or continually “improving” your house, but we each decide what is necessary for our own survival and often there are not words to explain what happened and how you got out. “‘But, Mr. Houdini, what do you think really happened? Do you think you were drugged? Do you think she mesmerized you in some manner?’ ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘but it was the most important experience of my life.’”
Perks examines many forms of escapism in this collection, love being another form. In “Quiero Bailar Slow With You Tonight,” Albert’s granddaughter, Sadie, loses herself in a love, trying to be the thing that will keep her lover from returning to Santiago, Chile. She even finds the perfume his first great love wore in order to entice him to stay. “The novia wore a scent that drove my lover wild. He remembers it was by Avon, but not the name. He says that if I find this scent and wear it, he will marry me. He says this lightly, with a laugh. We never talk about the fact that his research fellowship, and thus his visa, runs out in three months.” But this tactic doesn’t work, the lovers cannot avoid reality. “I hear myself say, ‘I’ll go with you. To Santiago.’ The city tastes acidic in my mouth.” “I realize I have allowed my whole store to reek of cheap perfume.”
Love is an escape for some but a harness for others. In “We Are the Same People,” Diane, Isaacs’s wife (Isaac is also grandson of Albert), loses herself in people also, mainly in her competitive and romantic love that she has for her brother. She becomes jealous of his new girlfriend. She is suffocated by her young daughter’s love, which demands her unbridled attention and devotion. “…I choose Alive!, one of my childhood favorites, from the bookshelf and lay myself out on the hammock on the porch. Lilah climbs in after me with a clutch of naked Barbies, begins to whisper to herself. The Barbies, named Mommy and Lilah, are planning their nuptials.” In “Breathing Room”—ten years after the first story—Diane finally succumbs to her feelings and leaves Isaac for a woman. Maybe this is the urge she was always fighting, always trying to escape. Not her brother, but who he dated. Leaving isn’t her escape; this marriage and this child were. Her leaving is her relenting to reality.
Perks examines both side of every of escape, like escaping into productivity. In “The Comeback Tour,” Isaac tries to cope with the divorce by burying himself in work, cleaning the house, refinishing furniture, staying late at the office. But his body betrays him; he cannot escape the reactions that his body is having to the stress of the situation. At his lowest point he tries to escape reality by getting stoned on a pipe found between the cushions of his Goodwill couch. The ingesting of a drug that was either gold in color (or made him see gold) brings his escapism to a head. “‘And I’m like the only teenager in town that doesn’t smoke weed. I hate that feeling, like I’m in a spacesuit. I just want to deal with reality.’” Isaac begins to deal with reality, and magically his body responds in kind. Isaac throws a party and even begins dating.
Perks considers the multitude of escapes available in this collection: drugs, relationships, people, work. Each escape is equally balanced by another character’s confinement by the very same idea. Children become an escape for Sadie but are a restriction to Diane. It is a magical world that Perks paints, one filled with golden tears and green-eyed men who play the accordion in Parisian cemeteries. But the magic of this world is also balanced by its haunting and dangerous nature, evoking an Alice in Wonderland effect. We can fall down the rabbit hole and live in this world, but only for a little while lest we succumb to its lurking perils.
A.M. Larks writes fiction and nonfiction. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She contributes reviews and interviews to and is a reader for The Coachella Review. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California–Riverside Palm Desert’s low-residency program. She lives in Northern California.