By Gary Tomlin
GALESBURG — Author Peter J. Gorham recently published his fourth work, “Sledding with Ernest Hemingway,” a collection of short stories. Many are set in Galesburg or a place very much like it. And others are set at various stops along Gorham’s travels through life.
The thing about short stories is the writer has to pack a novel into a few pages, and Gorham’s latest work is a tight package of compacted intelligence. He rewards the reader throughout with amusing little surprises of wordplay, logic and humor.
Take, for example, his story of six pages about the life and behavior of a railway mail clerk, “Dancing on the Gandy.” Gorham gives an adequate history of the long-gone Railway Mail Service and the railroaders who made it work so effectively.
Through a child’s eyes, he stabs at the prejudices he sees in his grandfather’s generation, and closely follows with subtle admiration for their character, stoic decorum and work ethic as a value now past. Its primary theme is about the fabric of railroading, but the story tells much more.
In addition to savvy little jokes and digs along the way, he treats us to a paragraph on the many moods of a train whistle. It’s something, like the grandfather’s class, that is mostly forgotten now in Galesburg.
Skipping ahead to “Self Discovery,” I was put off by the title until I saw the story was less than two pages, and I hoped, perhaps, Gorham had found the recipe to make obsolete all those tedious and trite tomes on self-help.
I think shooters everywhere will agree, he has. The pivotal paragraph:
“And then I saw the movement. The way the ivory balls touched each other and then cracked a beautiful sound of certainty and instantly sprang back in the opposite direction which they’d come in an exact mathematical angular ratio and fell into the holes. ... that instantly penetrated a part of me that had never come forth and spoken.”
If you have an opinion about Bob Dylan going electric, regardless of what it is, you will enjoy Gorham’s trip into the deepest of the South. If you already believed that Levon Helm was one of the coolest artists of the boomers’ time, you will be gratified by this search and discovery piece, “Finding Turkey Scratch.”
It’s a straight-up narrative, down a crooked road, by a reporter with a sense for history who probes cultures.
Perhaps a future Gorham work will reveal more of what he has learned about Helm.
Each story stands unto itself as a unique and telling work. Every word tells, and any shortcomings or disappointments in these stories are slight.
In the title piece, “Sledding With Ernest Hemingway,” Gorham identifies his demon. He closes the book with it and leaves the reader with hope that there is more to come.
Every story will not delight every reader, but every reader will find gems of intellect and humor throughout.
The price is $17, plus $3 for shipping (if necessary). Contact Gorham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Joseph Gorham was born in Galesburg, Illinois. His grandfather, William Short, was a self-educated railroader in love with the Great Books. His mother was an unsung poet. Peter’s first book, Blainie’s Carpet Barn–Becoming my Father’s Father –is a delightful and insightful picture of the aging process into which Peter steps to become the caretaker of his parents in a timeless American story. Dancing on the Moon in the Water, a novel, is Peter's tango with the divine and the questions of self-healing in a deteriorating world. Someone Else's Voice is a compilation of poetry written over fifty years. These books can be purchased through amazon.com or other distributors or from the author himself at email@example.com.
Sledding with Ernest Hemingway will take you from New England to Florida to the Deep South to Minnesota to Colorado and beyond, in thought provoking stories of the human condition. Peter Gorham brings insight into the confusions and realities, the love and the truth of life, and its humor. This book can only be purchased from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org