I will begin this review by getting directly to the point. Arthur Wooten’s Shorts is an intelligently humorous and often hysterically funny compilation of one short story – Stroke of Luck, and a short novella – The “Dear Henry” Letters.
Stroke of Luck features the story of celebrity chef Chip Lowell who is on the verge of making it big with his first television cooking show. But life can be quite inconvenient sometimes when in the matter of a sneeze it pulls the rug right out from under Chip forcing him to re-evaluate himself, his priorities and the people in his life. When we first meet Chip he is quite self-absorbed, by his own admission has a bevy of boys and is singularly focused on his career. He doesn’t have time for the people in his life and is quite dismissive of his current lover Billy. But Chip is literally incapacitated by life’s curve ball and quickly learns that those that once fawned over him such as his producer Paul and even Billy quickly abandon him in his time of need. It falls to his occupational therapist Allie to not only help him get back on his feet but also to show Chip the truly important things in life.
Stroke of Luck is a short story of about twenty pages, written in the first person and narrated by Chip. Despite the seriousness of Chip’s situation, Mr. Wooten writes with an intelligent humour and a crisp dialogue that well draws out the main characters. As the introductory story Stroke of Luck provides for both a witty and charming amuse bouche for what is to come in The “Dear Henry” Letters.
The “Dear Henry” Letters were first written for the London magazine reFRESH a gay publication for which Mr. Wooten was a humourist between March 2008 and April 2010, and at the request of his publishers who wanted the author to write about gay sex, love, dating and fetishes. However, instead of writing a typical advice column Mr. Wooten creatively addresses the challenges of gay courting in the twenty-first century through a series of letters to his fictitious and often exasperating lover “Henry” explaining the never-ending reasons why he and Henry must end their relationship. But sometimes breaking up is really hard to do.
Spanning a period of two years, each letter reads as a short chapter and chronicles the outlandish events and mishaps in Arthur and Henry’s relationship, from their first meeting through an online chat site to the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the demise of their relationship. With each letter, the degree of outrageousness of the situations in which Arthur finds himself as a result of Henry’s (mis)deeds incrementally increases, as does the laughter.
I should have written sooner to thank you for my birthday present but truth be told you had the wrong day and the wrong month. And you sent it to the wrong address. You’re an ass. But my mum always taught me to be polite so…thank you. And thank you for the homemade card. I thought the photograph of that magnificent naked man lying on the raft in that stunning pool was tastefully erotic until I realised it was me! You took that picture without me knowing it when we visited my friend Jon’s house in the country. What are you, an undercover paparazzi? And now it’s all over the internet. I went to your profile on the chat site we first met at and there is my naked bum up as your main profile pic and you’re telling everyone it’s you. Take my picture down now or I’m taking you up on charges and you’ll be heading back to jail and sharing a cell with Boy George.”
It is clear from Arthur’s letters that Henry is an especially eccentric chap who marches to his own proverbial drummer. However, with each letter and accompanying bout of laughter I couldn’t help but shake my head and wonder out loud at Arthur’s propensity for putting up with Henry’s eccentricities, or rather his gluttony for punishment. In the end however, poor Henry looses the one thing that I suspect is what most likely kept Arthur coming back for more.
Writing comedy is not easy and writing intelligent comedy is even more difficult. It is a quality that I’ve always believed is inherent and not learned and Mr. Wooten possesses this innate talent in spades. Charaterised by an excellent comedic sense, his writing is highly imaginative with a sharp sophistication. The Arthur-Henry situations had me laughing out-loud, at times to the point of tears and once in embarrassment as I made the mistake of carting my ereader to the gym to finish reading the novella and found myself doubled-over in laughter while trying to maintain my balance on the elliptical machine.
Below the surface however both a Stroke of Luck and The “Dear Henry” Letters provide for well-nuanced social commentary on the state of gay life and dating in the twenty-first century. Through Chip’s story the author explores such themes as the quest for beauty, youth, fame and fortune at the expense of a deeper meaning of life and self. Arthur’s predicament is a commentary on what we are willing to put up with in the name of love and relationships and I suspect that most have encountered a Henry at one point or another in their lives.
Arthur Wooten is a new-to-me author and after reading his Shorts I have placed his novel On Picking Fruit, which has received some excellent reviews, on my reading list. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Stroke of Luck and The “Dear Henry” Letters and recommend this compilation to all without any hesitation. If laughter is a form of therapy then Mr. Wooten’s Shorts will not only put a smile on your face, but also likely cure what momentarily ails you. A word of caution however, if you are the type of reader that is at all self-conscious do not read this book in public as you are sure to embarrass yourself (as I did) from the inability to hold back your guffaws.
Arthur Wooten’s Shorts – Stroke of Luck: a short story & The “Dear Henry” Letters is available at Amazon.