Two vignettes introduce Weston Cutter's collection of sketches and stories. Together, "Red Leaves" and "Empty Lot" total six pages. In the first, a son views the passing of the autumn light in terms of his father's and his own aging. "My heart is ... a treeless red leaf," he thinks. In the second piece, Cutter records the emotional changes that occur one summer to three boys living near an empty lot. The sketches are lovely for their brevity, for their sense of wonder and loss.
Quite a few of these 19 fictions are impressive. "Go Away Come Back I'm Yours" and "Don't Get Too Comfortable!" offer brief meditations on missed opportunities and loneliness. The mysterious "Party at the Kays's" concerns a theme party. The theme: jury duty. As he does in "Rachel," "Toof or Else" and other stories, Cutter artfully overlays meanings. Are the reluctant partygoers from the next-door apartment breaking up? What makes the hosts, Peter and Renee Kay, so mesmerizing?
Despite the frequent gems in "You'd Be a Stranger, Too" (BlazeVox, 264 pages, $20) -- another is "Maps" with its lovely image of "strawberries wrapped in a damp tea towel" -- many of the stories contain spelling, grammar and other errors. Consider "Rhymes With Tux," in which Catherine Mulligan returns to Schraederville from the fictional Harrison, Minn., to have a tooth fixed, to seek news of a former boyfriend, and to care for her forgetful father.
Though longer than it should be, the story mainly suffers from editing mistakes. In one place, the author spells Schraederville "Scrhaederville"; in another, he spells spiel "shpiel" (and later in the book, "schpiel"). He employs "than" instead of "then," writes "twin cities" in lowercase, and, trying to be clever, has Catherine Mulligan "revel in her magnesiumity" or has her recall when her high school nickname, "Rhymes With Tux," was "Sputnikally launched" during her senior year. Who should be blamed for the editing problems, author or publisher?
In "Model for a Square," a well-told tale of the artist G's grand love affair, Cutter confuses "whose" and "who's" and calls G's biographer Bayer, except once he calls him "Baylor." In the splendid "Empire Builder," Amtrak officials quarantine travelers in a Chicago rail yard. The narrator, a faithless lover, uses the misfortune to prolong his freedom. Unfortunately, missing words and inconsistent spellings (stomachache, stomach ache) appear here, too. In dialog tags, Cutter routinely capitalizes "he" (i.e., "'Morning,' He said ..."). Frequently, the author also fails to distinguish between "its" and "it's" in his book.
Then at the end comes the brilliant "Facts of the Mississippi" about the river, the weather and the Minneapolis music scene.
Weston Cutter often writes beautifully, evocatively, but the mistakes hurt him.
Anthony Bukoski, author of five short-story collections, lives and writes in Superior, Wis.