Once upon a time, two ambitious women decided their destinies were in teaching children the ways of the world. So they both enrolled in teacher’s college. There the two women met and became fast friends. After securing jobs in different (but relatively close) cities, they got married, had a couple of kids each and managed to stay in touch. Every summer or so (the school teacher’s vacation time!), these two young budding families would meet up for a weekend of barbecues and Slip n’ Slides, and watching The Lion King on repeat. It was during one of those times that I met Andrew Sullivan: he being the eldest son of Shelley and Ed and myself the eldest of Cathy and Paul. Our first real introduction was probably in utero, floating just beyond each other’s umbilical chords, cordially wiggling our almost-toes. But most likely it was while gazing absently up from our respective strollers, unaware that our own destinies, like the ones of our mothers, would land us in the same creative sphere and that some 24 years later, one would write a book that the other would write about.
The Circle of Life. So let’s get to it.
All We Want is Everything is the debut collection of short stories from Andrew F. Sullivan published by Arbeiter Ring Publishing based out of Winnipeg. It is comprised of 20 (!) short stories that range from cloudy overcast melancholy to dead-of-night dark. The stories are short (10 pages or less) and tell tales of psychological trauma, family dysfunction, broken hearts and broken bodies. His characters are often the underdogs: the mistresses, the widows, the young children of wayward parents and the convicts. Never too over the top, but ripe with bad mistakes and impulsively bad choices.
Sullivan’s prose is made up of many unsettling little pieces, of backstory snippets and precise details. He writes bits of dialogue here and there as his narrative weaves in and out. I feel like most of the characters in this collection, despite which story they came from, could have attended some kind of warped support group together, based on the similarities in their upsetting and often harrowing lives. Sometimes, the stories feel like maybe they could have been blended together, like perhaps Sullivan actually wrote the universe for a distressed population rather than 20 separate tales. A universe that depicts the dregs of human existence, like the smells, waste, raw feelings and unabashed impulses that plague the best of us. Though that’s not to say that each story doesn’t hold up on its own. Sharp opening lines and some surprisingly harsh endings bookend each tale and Sullivan is especially great with his startling descriptions. He manages to include a little that ends up feeling like a lot. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Either way, it’s precise: mini portraits of major struggles.
Standouts for me included Clouds, Pumpkinheads, In a Car On a River Outside Peoria Illinois, and Self-Cleaning Oven. If you’re feeling inclined towards the dark, uncomfortable side of humanity, my old pal Andrew certainly makes a well-versed tour guide, despite having a pretty decent childhood, if I do say so myself…