Monday, February 01, 2021

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee was the second collection of short stories I read for my personal challenge to read a story per day. It's been sitting on the shelf for several years and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. 

Most of the stories center around a university in some way (often from the perspective of students), but not all. In the first, "Bobcat", a couple host a dinner party and the wife muses to herself about the invited guests. One man, she thinks, is having an affair. She wants to tell the man's wife about her suspicions but her husband thinks she's being imaginative and that she should keep her thoughts to herself. The wife of the maybe-cheater is pregnant and glowing. The title refers to the honored guest, a woman who lost her arm in a bobcat attack. Or, did she? Is her story believable? There's a bit of a surprise twist to "Bobcat" that makes it the kind of story you want to talk about. So many little things to dig in and discuss. 

And, that seems to be the hallmark of Rebecca Lee's stories. The characters almost instantaneously feel real and 3-dimensional to the point that when they do something stupid or crazy, it not only makes them seem even more true to life but also provides excellent fodder for discussion. Why, for example, did the architect in the final story, "Fialta", react with such dramatic physicality when he found out one of the students had violated his rules? Was there more to it than just a frustration with rule-breaking? How should the students have behaved? Was following the rules too big a sacrifice for the prestige that went with his mentoring? How did the young couple in question really feel about each other? Was their attraction one-sided?  Lee drops just enough information to leave you guessing and doesn't always give you the answers. 

In "Min", the story centers around a couple of students who have become friends. He is the only man she's ever thought she could marry. When he decides to go home to Hong Kong for the summer, she agrees to go with him. His father will find her a job. But, it turns out the job is to find the one man she really cares for the perfect wife. See what I mean? What would you do? Would you agree to find a wife for the only man you've ever thought you might consider marrying? If so, would you work to find the perfect woman for him or would you try to sabotage things so that he might come running to you, instead? What the heroine does, in the end, feels absolutely right and yet her choice is also worthy of discussion. 

I love a story that's a little open, here or there, and forces you to fill in the blanks but I know a lot of people find that kind of story frustrating and it's one of the reasons some people avoid short stories entirely. If you like everything nicely wrapped up, this may not be the right short story collection for you. But, I closed it thinking I would read anything Rebecca Lee writes. 

Highly recommended - I especially recommend Bobcat to readers who are short story fans but don't mind the feeling that the author left out a bit too much. I like that kind of story for the way it makes the little cogs turn. I like to think about the various threads of possibility. But, I know a lot of people would prefer that an author give them more, especially in short form, as short stories often leave them feeling a little gypped. If you can tolerate the holes that are left for you to mentally fill in, Bobcat is an exceptional collection. 

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