Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The most important aspect of a Ralph Lombreglia story is that a plot summary is not adequate to even sketch its lineaments, much less render its full meaning. The cliché of the talented but struggling writer compromising himself by accepting a rich man’s money may at first seem to fit Reggie’s relationship with Gunther. However, Gunther is not a conventional character. He has become rich only recently, is immature rather than deliberately evil, and has some genuine creative instincts.

The other characters also are individuals, not types. Willie and Joseph are presented on equal terms, even though one is a chauffeur and the other a tycoon. This mirrors some of the anarchic strangeness of real life, all too often neatened in order to suit fictional formulae. The treatment of Willie and Joseph also signals Lombreglia’s treatment of issues of social class. The characters themselves are not working class, despite the initial setting of the diner as the source of artistic inspiration.

The rock band Acid Rain is the wild card in the story’s menagerie of personages. The truculence of Luke and Otis is testimony to their ignorance and narcissism. Otis has no interest in anything outside himself, even a film about his vocation. However, the way Gunther and Reggie see rock music, as a subject for a film and an untapped market, betrays their exclusively entrepreneurial perspective on creativity. In a way, the musician’s surly lack of interest in a money-making film is a guarantee of artistic integrity.

The irony is that no one involved in the production of the screenplay likes rock and roll; Reggie cannot stand Acid Rain, the rock group, either as performers or as people. The filmmaker-landlord is a symbol of the person who wants to have his cake and eat it too—to have the fun of creativity without taking the risks because the person always maintains control. What Gunther offers Reggie is not prestige but an almost narcotic sense of assurance, a promise that Reggie will be taken care of, that he will not have to assume the burden of living by his own convictions.

Lombreglia’s combination of subtle observation of contemporary life with a cogent knowingness and a freewheeling sense of humor garnered his work acclaim, particularly in the early to mid-1990’s, although he has not gained the high visibility in contemporary literature that he deserves.