“Book Review: The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love”
Reviewed by Nathaniel Drenner
A short story collection about people searching for connection, sometimes without even realizing they are
In the opening story of Chuck Augello’s collection, the narrator muses about the choice he and his partner made to remain childless. “There was too much crap in the world,” he says, “and over the years plenty of it had smacked head-on against our lives.” In 2020 that sentiment is stronger than ever. Why would we want to bring another human being into a world that incessantly bombards us with strife and conflict? How could a person ever find happiness, or love, in such a condition?
The absence of a child is one of the spaces, grey and unfilled, that echoes throughout The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love. In some cases, the empty space is a child that never was; in others, a child that died. Characters have various ways of coping with this and other forms of loss, or lack. Augello recognizes that, despite what may be our better judgment, we can’t help wanting to fill the void in our lives. Other times we push people away, preferring a solitary null space of our own. Perhaps this is love: connection and loss.
“When Kristin first told me she was pregnant it seemed impossible. She’d been on the pill since we’d met and we hadn’t been trying to conceive yet nine months later Chloe appeared, our DNA strands cut into ribbons and reassembled into a perfect little creature. Just like magic.“
But the stories are not dreary, nor are children the only subject. One character is in love with his job. Another attempts to navigate the competitiveness of brotherly love. Another falls in love with a word—yes, a word (readers, who among us doesn’t have their favorite?). Sometimes love is charming; sometimes it is misguided. At times it becomes obsessive—unhealthy, if not dangerous. And romantic love is, of course, intertwined in some manner with the others. All forms are recognizable.
As with the mysterious and multifaceted nature of love itself, Augello toys with the line between the spiritual and the temporal, between meaning and meaninglessness. Without becoming cliched or needlessly philosophical, the collection probes our understanding of life’s experiences. What is “meaning,” anyway? That may be up to the people who share the inexplicable grey space together.
“Caring is easy. I care about lots of people. I even care about Dr. Potter, our dentist. But caring and loving are two separate worlds. So I’ll ask you again, Donald, do you love my daughter?”
Some of the stories stretch reality, such as one of the strongest pieces in the collection, where a couple experiences pregnancy and parenthood in the span of one night. When Augello does this, his sentences are so matter-of-fact that you can’t help suspending disbelief. Of course a person can spontaneously erupt into flames. Of course a naked elderly man can appear at the foot of your bed offering to read your fortune. The grey space of tone works. The collection never takes itself too seriously; it just asks us to come along for the ride.
Augello’s masterful opening lines showcase his balancing act between seriousness and absurdity. Try a few:
- “I was in the kitchen watching The Weather Channel when the girl from two floors down knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to fall in love.”
- “Three days after the funeral the only things left were her ukulele, her monkey, and me.”
- “We were almost ready to close when two Buddhist monks walked in and ordered twenty large cheese pizzas to go.”
In that last one, the opening line of the opening story, you can almost hear the start of a joke: Two Buddhist monks walk into a pizza joint… Instead, the line predicts the grey spaces to come—careful, tender, winking, absurd. In the world around us those spaces may be the only refuge, even if they are fleeting and strange. Augello reminds us to take comfort in that, not to give into it.
Publisher: Duck Lake Books
Paperback: 176 pages
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