Not Where I Started From

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Most of the stories in NOT WHERE I STARTED FROM feature peripatetic Americans who seek love or enlightenment in far-flung corners of the globe. The narrator of “Mr. Peanut” leaves Bridgeport and her mother’s grasp for a strange corporate advertising/writing assignment in Cuba. There she falls for a beautiful and tender drug dealer named Severo. She is never far away enough from home, however, to escape her mother’s phone calls, which she dreads. But to her chagrin she finds that “Not calling my mother was like sitting on an overfull suitcase that had me inside it.”

In “Improving My Average,” the precocious daughter of a multinational corporate executive tries to guarantee the wedding of her Colombian friend, the household’s maidservant. In the story’s wrenching conclusion, she learns that neither prayers nor good intentions, nor even the best-laid plans, are enough to protect innocent loved ones from harm and suffering. Love itself, however, is a powerful weapon. The maidservant’s fiance accepts her deformity (an amputated leg that had been a lame leg), much to the narrator’s surprise. “Snow Leopard, White Bird” examines the relationship of a man and woman who reencounter each other many years after their highschool romance. He has become a guru to a small group of devotees; she is skeptical at first but cannot resist his charisma and power. She fears his invitation to rekindle the relationship, but accepts it. Soon jealousies arise, along with the knowledge that the guru has been using his powers similarly to convince all devotees who are skeptical at first.

Kate Wheeler’s stories are rich in irony and insight. Travelers will appreciate her renderings of strange affairs in far-off places. Travelers and homebodies alike will enjoy her observations and her comic touch.