by Gene Marrano
Kurt Rheinheimer, editor-in-chief for Leisure Publishing in Roanoke, has just released a second collection of short stories, works that he has written over the past several decades. Many have appeared in literary journals and popular magazines elsewhere. Finding Grace, from Press 53 in Winston-Salem, features tales of a Maryland family in the 40’s and 50’s, mainly through the eyes of a son, Alex.
It is fiction based loosely on Rheinheimer’s own upbringing near Baltimore; playing ice hockey back in the days when the Chesapeake Bay actually used to freeze, dealing with a kid brother, the early signs of romance, and a fractured family unit. Rheinheimer’s nostalgic, smooth writing style evokes a past era and may make older readers remember their own upbringings fondly.
His previous collection of short stories, Little Criminals, was also well-received and won awards when it was released in 2005. Compared by one reviewer to such well-known writers as Frank McCourt and William Maxwell, Rheinheimer said the short story genre suits him just fine. He’s tried writing a novel “but didn’t like it and didn’t go back to it. The parallel might be a 5K [race] and the marathon. I’m just not a marathon guy.”
A long time runner and avid hiker, Rheinheimer said the popularity of the short story has dwindled over the years, but there are still outlets for the type of prose he likes to write. His stories have appeared everywhere from Glimmer Train Stories and the Michigan Quarterly to Redbook and, of all magazines, Playgirl. That happened when Rheinheimer briefly took on an agent who landed him that placement. The New Yorker still runs short stories, he also notes.
Seeing the stories in Finding Grace collected and printed in one book, Rheinheimer realizes it might have been more autobiographical then he first thought when they were written over the past 30 years. His father Walter – Edwin in the book – read one of the stories some years ago and asked his son, “I thought you wrote fiction?” Edwin buys a second house, leaves his wife Grace and moves in with a Norwegian woman at one point; he’s also a packrat with an obsession for stamps.
Rheinheimer said the “writer’s curse” is often losing the distinction between what is real and what is created to help formulate a good story. The actual events concerning his family are sort of a “muddle” at this point for the 60-something Rheinheimer, who oversees The Roanoker magazine and Blue Ridge Country.
Many of the stories are centered around Alex at age 12, growing up in a factory town on the peninsula in Maryland, surrounded by water, playing baseball constantly. Giant planes manufactured and tested there buzzed by in the sky overhead on a regular basis. Men left their row houses in the morning, headed for the airplane factory, while mothers like Grace hung laundry out on lines and kept an eye on outdoor-loving kids. Life was simpler. Edwin is somewhat demanding and wants an intellectual life for his children in the stories of Finding Grace, according to Rheinheimer, while Grace comes off as a more sympathetic figure. “She’s always careful and loving of her children. [Perhaps] a little bit in the extreme.”
Alex and his brother are “addicted to being outside,” noted Rheinheimer, adding that parts of the book deal with Alex realizing that his parents, grandparents and siblings are real people, not just family members. That’s a lesson many children learn as they grow up, and one of the revelations some may uncover in Finding Grace.
See press53.com or amazon.com to order Finding Grace.