First Fiction From California : FAULT LINE <i> by Jo-Ann Mapson (Pacific Writers Press, University of California, Irvine, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese, Irvine, Calif. 92717: price not set; 144 pp.) </i>
One of the virtuoso techniques of short-story writing is to make the ordinary seem extraordinary. Jo-Ann Mapson exercises a variation on this technique. The 13 stories in this collection focus on ordinary people in ordinary situations--housewives, hospital patients, college students--and cut recognizable, short-story-size slices from their daily lives. Each story reveals a moment where the hero understands something about his or her life: he is doomed to repeat this habit forever, or this detail is what gives her life meaning. The title of the collection, “Fault Line,” since it is not one of the story titles, presumably refers to the invisible cracking under the surface of daily life; it is a familiar short-story theme, and Jo-Ann Mapson gives it a competent workout.
The extraordinariness about Mapson’s writing, however, begins to sink in once you’ve read several of these stories: It’s that all these characters are so different. While each is vivid in a quiet way, when they are considered together, they take on lives of their own, as if they all live in separate universes; and all these universes exist inside one writer’s head, extrapolated from a few observed details.
“The Red Nightie Network” presents three mothers who meet over coffee. They are friends because they are neighbors, but also because each has a child with a serious medical problem: asthma, a blood-clotting disorder, cystic fibrosis. “Sometimes I feel like I’m raising a dying child,” one mother observes. The threesome find temporary relief in a shared secret: a flimsy red nightgown that each tries out on her husband. In the very next story, “First Chair,” Mapson takes on the voice of an 11-year-old girl playing fourth-chair violin in a school orchestra. She conceives a passionate hatred for the first-chair violinist and conductor’s pet: “His elbows, knots of bone larger than his upper arms, would always lift too high and the conductor would deposit a junior-sized rage on the entire section, rather than single out his favored student.” (Although this character doesn’t really talk like a child, the intensity of pre-adolescent feeling sounds unnervingly accurate.)
The author’s ability to create distinct worlds becomes obvious in a pair of stories about a couple. First she examines the man’s point of view, then the woman’s; he is introspective and too much under his parents’ influence, while she is earthy and rather ferocious. Mapson’s stories are nice enough in themselves, but the cumulative effect inspires admiration.