The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love by Chuck Augello is a book of short stories that I devoured in just one day. There were two things that kept me dialed into this book. The first was that all the stories were absurd (in the best way). They're stories that would never happen in real life. A pizza cook caters a Buddhist man's self-immolation, a woman tattoos computer code onto her body, and two people find love in a cult-like dating organization. These stories seem absolutely ridiculous, a work of fiction. But at the same time, they feel like they could be real. The second thing that kept me interested in this collection was that Augello has a natural ability to balance heavy themes with humor. One minute I was horrified, saddened by the trauma the characters endure, and the next I was laughing out loud.
One of the stories that stuck with me the most was "The Project." In this short story, a man frantically works from home on a computer code for his job. He's been working on the project for so long without any rest that all he has left in his fridge is RedBull and little boxes of raisins. He's supposed to be going to a dear friend's wedding in a day or two, but his project consumes him so much that he thinks about skipping it.
Utterly out of food, he ventures to the supermarket, where he comes across a woman he knows from work. They had hooked up in the past, and he remembers her being beautiful. But now, after working on her own project, she's disheveled, a zombie. They end up going back to his place where she reveals that she's tattooed computer code onto her body. It's the only way she could get her last partner to notice her. Similarly, it's the only reason why our narrator is remotely interested in her. They hook up again before he finds out that he's been fired from his job. Even so, the only thing he can think about is the project. He continues working on it even though there is no point, he doesn't work for that company anymore.
That sounds ludicrous doesn't it? I thought so when I first read it, but then I started thinking about it more. Work always seems to pull everyone away from the things they should be enjoying in life. Weddings, our children's recitals, they sometimes get pushed to the side because we need to be working on whatever work project right now. And at the end of the day, does it really matter?
That kind of sad, despairing story is juxtaposed with other, happy stories as well. One of my favorites was "Cool City." The story starts out, "I was in the kitchen watching The Weather Channel when the girl from two floors down knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to fall in love." It made me smile, the girl is practically a stranger to the narrator, and she openly asks if he wants to fall in love with her. Eventually, she sits him down and asks him a bunch of questions to determine their "compatibility." It's something she's picked up from a cult-like organization, the Fast Love Movement. She says he has 48 hours to decide if he wants to fall in love with her, and if he says yes, they will be married by the end of the month. To his surprise, the girl has a few other men lined-up, just in case our narrator says no.
Again, a completely absurd story that would never happen in real life, right? But maybe it would...I started thinking about the pressure society puts on us to fall in love while we're still young. It seems if we're not married by the time we're thirty, there's something wrong with us. People use dating apps all the time, which I think is eerily similar to this Fast Love Movement in the story. People swipe right on each other, maybe talk for a few days, then that connection fizzles, and they move onto the next. A lot of the time, people are talking to multiple people at once, hoping one of them will work out in the long run. Suddenly, it didn't seem so far-fetched that something like the Fast Love Movement might pop up somewhere in the world.
Overall, I really liked this collection and I think it would be a great pick for a book club. The stories are gripping, interspersed with sadness and laughter. It keeps your attention and you don't really want to put it down. But, the stories also offer a deeper meaning, which would be great for group discussion.
Jessica Purgett is a recent graduate of Mount Mercy University where she majored in English and marketing.