Douglas Trevor christens 'The Book of Wonders' at Literati

Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 3:55pm

“The music of a short story … is made up of cymbals and screams and the metal of a DC-10, twisting and crashing into the cold, dead earth. No survivors, friends. No one makes it out alive.”

No one at Literati on Tuesday night took Douglas Trevor’s death omen seriously. Or maybe they did. Either way, the bookstore’s second-floor was packed with readers (filling every seat and every place to stand) excited for the release of “The Book of Wonders,” the newest collection of short stories by Trevor, a professor of English and Creative Writing. 

The smells and sips of coffee brewing at the cafe (tempting for a coffee lover despite the dangers of drinking caffeine at 7 p.m.) delighted noses and tongues of attendees; ears and eyes were treated with a vibrant reading of the first half of Trevor's story “The Novelist and the Short Story Teller.”

It follows Thom, a short-story writer of experimental fiction for obscure journals, and Ellen, a novelist of a work titled “Hand Job,” who both attend the “Upstart Conference in the Hills” for writers. While Ellen presents herself to the crowd with endearing words and a wave, it is the ominous Thom who claims that short stories are death music with “no survivors.”

“The book’s really about exploring the ways that people at different junctures in their lives try to get through difficult times and … the ridiculous, and in some ways, the not-so-ridiculous ways that we try to connect with other people and reinvent ourselves,” said Trevor in an interview with The Michigan Daily. At the same time, the stories that comprise “The Book of Wonders” include moments of goofiness that are intended to amuse readers.

In this way, Trevor’s reading at Literati proved to be the proper way to inaugurate his new work. The humor in his reading was well-received with laughter from the audience, as would be expected in response to Trevor reciting in a deep voice and with a low stare, “‘I love the circle jerk in Hand Job.’” And to release this collection — one that endeavors to show how human connection manifests itself, even in the most obscure of circumstances — in a communal setting where his potential readers could react and connect to the story together seemed perfectly in line with the book’s intentions. Together, the audience could see Thom’s attempt at conversation with Ellen about hand jobs as more than a humorous detail: it is an attempt to connect.

“Short stories are constituted as much by what isn’t in them as opposed to what is,” Trevor said. That being the case, the excitement and the challenge of writing a short story is “that you give your reader a glimpse ... into the given circumstances surrounding a given person, and the reader can connect with that person even if they only know that person over the course of a few pages.”

Trevor is practiced in the literary challenge of short stories. He is a celebrated author who has won awards for his previous collection of short stories, “The Thin Tear in the Fabric of Space,” and for his novel, “Girls I Know.” Additionally, he has published stories in multiple literary journals. Trevor is also the Director of the Helen Zell Writers program, whose mission, as stated on the program’s website, — “to embody and value those practices that speak to the importance of empathy and compassion” — Trevor applies in his own writing.

“Literary endeavor is one of the most important means by which we try to foster empathy in other people and remind people of the importance of different perspectives,” Trevor said. All of the eyebrow-raising and laugh-inducing stories in “The Book of Wonders”  — one in which an isolated librarian seeks to satisfy his intense longing to feel the sensation of butterfly wings by touching a young girl’s eyelids, and another in which a lonely CPA invites a mysterious animal control man to live in her bed for days — are applications of literature as a tool to show how people connect.

“The Book of Wonders” is now available in stores and available for anyone who wishes to read and connect to these accounts of various wondrous happenings.