The Late Night Caller

by Michael Hetherington
ISBN: 0888012888

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A Review of: The Late Night Caller
by Ernest Hekkanen

The tone and defining conundrum of Michael Hetherington's collection, The Late Night Caller, is set, appropriately enough, in the very first story, "Overture". A man sits in the Caf Zinc where he is served crme caramel for lunch while reading a book. He wishes he could talk to his dead father and then, spontaneously, he puts his arms around the circumference of the table in hopes of measuring "a perfect circle in paradise."
A woman enters. She might very well be the wife he is looking for. However, she has already been taken, it turns out, by the manager who proceeds to argue with her. The woman leaves in a huff and the manager, on the way back to the kitchen, mutters, "It's all metaphysics."
The narrator feels as though someone is trying to capture his soul in a butterfly net. He tries to leave the Caf Zinc, but his way has been "barred, as in a castle." He orders coffee and, later, after leaving a significantly large tip, somehow is freed from the caf. He goes to the library where he studies and studies but no wand appears in his hand and, later still, on a bus, after a woman drops a handful of change, he slaps himself three times on his buttocks "and disappears."
In a world that makes sense only in terms of poetic motifs and tropes of an absurd nature, there is no logical way to exit the seeming madness of everyday circumstances, except through magic and, perhaps, laughter-at least for the author of this fascinating collection of twenty-one extremely short stories.
Hetherington's stories comprise a Labyrinth from which there is no exit, as in "The Alcove". In "The Alcove" a man parks his vehicle in an underground parking lot and then proceeds to walk up some stairs in hopes of getting to a business meeting on time, only to run into a dead end where two men, characters very similar to ones found in a Samuel Beckett play, inform him that while there is a way in, there is no way out. "Are you married?" one man asks him, and after answering in the affirmative, the narrator is informed, "She'll find someone else. After a while she won't miss you."
Most of the men in The Late Night Caller are subject to the merciless whims of women, who treat them with supreme indifference, as in "Boomerang", where a man out for a jog has his head severed from his body by a boomerang thrown by a boy. The boy plants the narrator's head in the center of a field and drags his body off into a wooded area. Lawn maintenance men drive their vehicles around the narrator's head, still quite alive and vainly attempting to observe the sky. Two weeks later, the boy returns with a bucket of glue, magically reconnects the narrator's separate halves-not very well, by the way-and the narrator heads home to his wife who asks him whether he has seen any good movies lately. When the movie they knew you would come back."
The only way Theseus was able to find his way out of the Labyrinth after killing the Minotaur was by following an unraveled ball of thread given to him by Ariadne. In Hetherington's labyrinthine collection, there is no thread that can be followed in order to find one's way out again. That's because, for him, there are no women capable of falling madly in love with his ubiquitous narrator (the narrators are all very similar, and often read books in cafes), with the result that he isn't offered a ball of thread to unwind.
The wisdom element that is woman is missing or is contemptuous of the narrator, but always in a whimsical sort of fashion that lets the reader know that everything going on in Hetherington's stories should be understood on a metaphysical level-as in Greek myths. Indeed, we come to suspect that the ubiquitous narrator is not all that keen on finding a way out of his own personal Labyrinth, for, in "Boot"-boots that make the narrator extremely macho and murderous-the supremely important female figure is slain; and again, in the title story, "The Late Night Caller", the only woman possibly capable of becoming an Ariadne figure is found murdered in a closet.
There is a lot of good, old-fashioned Jungian fun in Michael Hetherington's collection, in addition to wonderfully luminous prose and a conundrum that keeps teasing at the edges of this reader's mind. He provides us with a balm for our humdrum condition-a magic cure for conventional existence. I highly recommend it.

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