In one of several very funny stories in Gary Fincke's collection "A Room of Rain," freelance writer Larry Whisenant has a "star moment" in a zombie movie. When he's made up to resemble a walking corpse, he becomes someone new. Free of his rational, moral self, the zombie can settle a vexing problem: What to do about his daughter's transgender lover. "This is your star turn. Rip her to shreds," the director calls on the set. Whereupon thinking of his daughter and Lainie, Whisenant "lurched" into action, "remembering the hitch step he'd learned from high school graduation. Step with the left, slide up the right. … It was the same way he'd marched to 'Pomp and Circumstance.' "
In this delightful, though unsettling, story collection, Fincke's protagonists project themselves into others' minds, a zombie's, for instance. By doing this, they learn what they could become under different circumstances. Like Whisenant when he's not in zombie mode, Fincke's men are frustrated by desires they're only dimly aware of. Then a role in a movie or a news item on television or in the paper gets them thinking, What if I were a zombie, a pervert or, worse, a serial killer?
When his bowling partner in "The Comfort of Taboos" is accused of inappropriate behavior with students, the mild-mannered narrator considers whether he could do something like Maslow, a teacher, has purportedly done. "Nobody wants to be a pedophile," he tells himself. Thank heaven for the comfort of taboos that restrain him from acting on his impulses. Once more, an alter ego, in this case a faculty league bowler who has "trouble converting spares," illuminates the recesses of a narrator-protagonist's mind.
In "The Visual Equivalent of Pain," a librarian wonders whether he, like his pal, could murder someone. In "Perfect," a man stalks his girlfriend out of curiosity after reading that one "Albert Swaner confessed to killing six young women in 14 months within 50 miles of us."
Less violent stories also grace the collection. In the touching title story, a weather phenomenon comforts the wife of a faithless husband. "It was raining only in our yard," the son exults over the miracle. In "Household Hints," Abrams, a gay man, removes pictures from his living room before he invites his friend from the bank to dinner. Are the framed photos of other men, or are they tasteless "magazine pictures" of "landscapes and such" that would disappoint Benson, the loan officer?
The author of 27 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, Fincke won the 2003 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction. Last year, he was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. Readers are in capable hands when they read his wise, wonderful stories.
Anthony Bukoski, a short-story writer, lives in Superior, Wis.