I just got Lighting the Dark Side: Six Modern Tales in a mail a few days ago. It is a collection of short stories and novellas that focuses on relatively normal people in strange situations. I haven’t finished all of them yet, in fact, I’ve only read the first story. I will get to the others. For now, I really want to tell you about “Bent, Not Broken,” a story that should not be missed.
Dwayne suffers from OCD. I think that after finishing the story that some of my own compulsive tendencies have flared, but I’m not Dwayne. Dwayne must live in a world of odd numbers preferring 3s, 5s, and 7s. One of the more touching moments is when Dwayne is out on a date and he needed an extra chair and place setting at the table in order to feel comfortable, and I think that I’m hard to live with.
Dwayne is excellent at his job. He is calls people that he reefers to as “marks” and asks them about their preferences, surveys them about food, TV, etc, and rewards those who answer them with valuable coupon books. He holds the record for the most completed surveys in one shift. He is loved by his boss; hated by his co-workers. To Dwayne, his co-workers are the terrible trio. They play games with this desk, putting an extra pen in his up so that they number 4 or 6 or 8. These games make it impossible for Dwayne to focus.
The one thing that Dwayne has going for him is a mysterious woman that he calls Black-Coat Girl who is at the bus stop everyday at the same time he drives by on his way to work. Dwayne has made up several stories about Black-Coat Girl, who she is, what she does, why she takes the bus.
What is really nice about this story is that it has a very Punch-Drunk Love romantic twist that takes a seven car pileup on a snowy day to kick off. Dwayne has to take the bus, the very same bus that Black-Coat Girl takes. And on that day, Black-Coat Girl sits down beside him and admits that she thinks of him as her 20-Second Boyfriend.
They have a bumpy start to things, but their story ends well, not the happily ever after kind of ending, but an ending that suits the characters and left me wanting for more.
The writing is really well done. The descriptions of Dwayne’s inner experience are strange and wildly detailed. I did not need to be told what Dwayne’s illness was, the care and detail put into the character were enough that went Black-Coat Girl asks if he is OCD and has sought help, I thought that using the term was over kill. I could feel the oppression of Dwayne’s condition.
I truly hope that the rest of the collection is executed in such a dark but carrying way. I really don’t think that I’m going to be able to put this collection away until I’ve read each and every story.
Potter, William R. “Bent, Not Broken.” Lighting the Dark Side: Six Modern Tales. Xlibris, 2008. p. 14 - 78