Famous Fathers and Other Stories by Pia Z. Ehrhardt

Michelle Reale
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

The pursuit of love, searingly depicted.

Famous Fathers and Other Stories

Publisher: Cage Publishing
ISBN: 9781596922129
Author: Pia Z. Ehrhardt
Price: $19.50
Length: 200
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-05

New Orleans author Pia Ehrhardt redefines human relationships in a way that can make a reader flinch, though in a good way. The 11 stories in this inaugural collection are searing in their depiction of the pursuit of love and second chances. One touches on the mystifying and tempestuous relationship between a father and daughter; another on how too much love can sometimes be as damaging as not enough.

Refreshingly, Ehrhardt doesn't string the reader along with inflated prose or over-the-top characterizations. Her stories are clean, sharp-edged, and imbued with honesty. She somehow manages to strike emotional chords by means of characters who are often morally bankrupt. Add to that the resonance that is New Orleans. The city is so trapped in our collective psyche as synonymous with bad luck and devastation, that the mere mention of the place serves as a metaphor for love itself, cracked perhaps, but unbroken.

The title story is narrated by high school senior Katie, who longs for the attention of her very busy and famous father, the mayor of Texadelphia. She befriends two girls in school whose love for their fathers is often a manipulative -- and erotic -- ploy to get whatever they want. Katie begins to date Larry, a young guy who works for her father, and suddenly gets her father's attention. Blurting out at the dinner table one evening that she has had sex with Larry changes the already fragile dynamic of her family and forces a father to see the reality of his daughter's life in a light most men would rather not.

In "Running the Room," a woman has no qualms about using her married daughter to hide behind while she carries on an affair with a city councilman, leading her daughter to ponder her own marriage in a blase fashion:

"I'm married, I understand what can happen over time, how you run out of new material and repeat yourself, zone out of your own thoughts because they're kind of dull, and so what? You go to bed at night and say, was your day any good, dear, mine was fine, and let's hope tomorrow is like today, and months go by and you lose sight of the fact that you're way out of range, a hundred miles from thrilling.

In "How It Floods," while a hurricane brews in the Gulf, a woman's casual flirtation with a civil engineer concerned about the levee's holding should disaster strike ends in a way she should have foreseen: "Tricky girls find men who trick them." In "Stop," the narrator schools the reader on how to be comforted when love, as it often does, goes frantically, unpredictably, messily awry -- or even worse, when the seemingly insurmountably mundane aspects of life force us into going through the motions with love as with everything else.

No one escapes in Ehrhardt's stories: To love is to burn. Still, somehow, Ehrhardt's stories have an aspect of survivability, an "it is what it is" sort of a moral. Love may be flawed, but its pursuit is inevitable. Finding it, whenever or wherever, can make you "remember how rare it is to be loved for a minute like you're new."


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