Sunday, May 28, 2000

Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel reviews Richard Grayson's THE SILICON VALLEY DIET

In today's book review section, The Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale reviews Richard Grayson's The Silicon Valley Diet:

The (Fort Lauderdale) Sun-Sentinel (May 28, 2000):

Snapshots of modern humanity


Grayson. Red Hen Press. $14.95.

Most readers will find something familiar in the ninth collection of short stories, a paperback original, by the Fort Lauderdale author and college instructor Richard Grayson.

I, for one, enjoyed revisiting my old stomping grounds of Plantation and Tallahassee, and being reminded of the taste of croissants from Zabar's in Manhattan. I nodded as I read Grayson's renditions of the daily dramas that unfold in e-mails, the concerns with what we eat, the trauma of teaching community college students to write five-paragraph essays and the quest for good, if not always true, love.

Gay readers will most likely appreciate the affectionate and funny portrayals of gay men in tender and troubled relationships. Straight readers shouldn't have any problems identifying, either. All the protagonists in these stories seem to be looking for the kind of lifelong commitment that Mom and Dad embodied.

Although memorial services for young men seem commonplace in Grayson's fiction, the stories are not tragedies. They serve up slices of life as we know it right here and now with hate crimes, weight worries and easy money for Internet whizzes.

Structurally, the stories do not provide traditionally rendered scenes, and they don't move linearly along from point A to point B to point C and so on. Many of them are broken up with italicized passages that serve as a counterpoint to the narrative. I like stories that bring disparate ideas together, but occasionally when reading them en masse, the technique becomes superfluous.

That small quibble aside, let me say that the stories overall are funny, intelligently written and original. "Spaghetti Language" mixes the narrator's love for a dead grandfather, a friend's beautiful 4-year-old child, and his lover, Terence, a gorgeous, tall, young black man who appears in several stories with learning computer programming language. There is a connection.

"Boys' Club" drops the reader smack dab into the lives of a gay punk band. This is probably the most traditional story and my favorite. The narrative voice is so authentically young and misunderstood and rebellious and poignantly philosophical: "Anarchism doesn't only mean destroying the government. It could
also mean destroying the forces dictating how people have to live. It was more acceptable to be out in the punk scene than in mainstream music culture even before you were able to slam around with other boyfags in lingerie."

Grayson's writing is full of delicious nuggets. Here's an insight in the title story about the narrator's hunt for a meaningful relationship: "I'd long ago given up going to slaughterhouses and trying to approach aspiring Abercrombie & Fitch catalog models emitting radiation from isotopes of unobtainium. After enough `access denied' messages, you don't want to do anything but log off."

Other cool stories include "Those Old Dark, Sweet Songs," about the narrator's complicated relationship with Terence; "The Five Stages of Eating at Cuban-Chinese Restaurants," in which Terence breaks up with the narrator; and "Anything but Sympathy" about a 30-year-old man's first relationship with another man.

These stories accurately capture snapshots of our culture at a very interesting moment. The Silicon Valley Diet and Other Stories sets out to prove we haven't really lost our humanity under the deluge of technology. And we probably never will.

Pat MacEnulty, a former promotional writer for the Sun-Sentinel, is a short-story writer and freelance fiction editor in Charlotte, N.C.