Short Stories 366:148 — “Oliver Gutierrez and the Walking Stick of Destiny,” by Elliott Dunstan

coverThere’s this thing that happens way, way too often in fiction where marginalized characters get to have one crack at the list. There can be the white lesbian, and the black woman, and the Deaf kid, and so on, but a Deaf black lesbian? Suddenly reviews fill up with mentions of “too much” or “unbelievable” or the like, when instead the reality is that, well, to follow my own example there, Deaf black lesbians exist. And so they should also appear in fiction.

If that seems like an odd rambling introduction to a short story, understand it was one of the reasons I had my fist in the air when I was reading Elliott Dunstan’s story for the first time: Oliver Gutierrez is deaf, and bipolar, and queer and it’s all so damn pitch-perfect and wonderful and real that, well, as I said: fist was in the air. That Oliver is having a really, really rough week: a new diagnosis to add to list of ways xe isn’t “normal” has left Oliver feeling all the more off. Walking is painful, and while there’s a cane in the corner that could maybe help, the cane also just started talking (and sounds a lot like Julie Andrews) and Oliver isn’t sure xe’s up to the challenge right now.

There’s a wonderful juggling act between the lived reality, the all-too-familiar self-deprecating humour, and the strengths found in difference in “Oliver Gutierrez and the Walking Stick of Destiny.” I think it’s a juggling act I noticed many, many times in Nothing Without Us, and honestly “Oliver” was the sort of story I loved the most in the book: a slice of day-in-the-life from an angle we should see so much more often, but don’t. I mentioned loving Elliott Dunstan’s work before, in Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space), and I’m so glad to find more.

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