BOOK OF THE WEEK
Gary W. Priester of Placitas has spent most of his professional life as an advertising art director and a graphic designer on the West Coast. In that context, he’s written two books on computer design and five on stereograms. A stereogram is a computer-generated image that when viewed correctly produces a three-dimensional image. Priester did some work as a journalist, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that Priester realized he had something to say as a writer of fiction. That realization resulted in his book “The Chimes of Westminster and Other Short Stories.”
The title story was the first of a group of 16 that he has written and compiled. That initial story grew out of an experience Priester and his wife, artist-writer Mary E. Carter, had with a Hermle mantel clock they had bought. It played the popular Westminster chimes.
“We are getting on in years and so our hearing is not great. At night, the clock chimed a sound very different than it did during the day. The chimes sounded distorted. Almost sinister,” Priester said in an email. “I began imagining a story where the clock had a mind of its own. Where it was tired of playing the same chimes over and over again and started curating its own playlist. This and how it was making the main characters slightly daft was the basis for the title story.”
In the story, Sid and Beth were gifted a mantel clock by Sid’s late great-aunt Florence. The couple, who are in their 70s, were losing their hearing and almost stopped hearing the chimes. One morning, at about 3 a.m., Beth thought she heard the chimes playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Soon after Beth heard the clock’s chiming melody return. Sid had slept through the episode. Weeks later, at 1 a.m., he, and he alone, heard the chimes playing “Hey Jude.”
For months after, the Westminster chimed melody stayed on course. But one night, the clock chimed at 9 p.m., but omitted the Westminister melody. Sid and Beth then heard the clock play the tune of “If I Were a Rich Man” from the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Sid brought the clock to a clock shop to have its mechanism checked out.
The shop owner later told Sid he cleaned the clock, oiled it, reassembled it and certified it to be in excellent shape.
Meanwhile, Sid did his own online research about the history of this specific clock.
Suffice it to say, the clock resumed playing snippets of various popular tunes. Sid and Beth figured they had enough of chime independence when it played “Happy Birthday” after an at-home party to celebrate Sid’s 75th birthday.
Read the story to find out how Priester winds up (pun intended) the story.
The 16 stories in the collection are not linked to each other, though a few characters reappear in different stories.
For one, there’s Bernard Stapleton. He’s a no-good two-timer in “The Family Shtetl” who returns home after a six-month vacation, presumably by himself. Stapleton is briefly mentioned in the story “Tours to the Trouble Spots of the World” as a man who’s traveling with … his granddaughter? Or is she his nurse? No, the young woman is Stapleton’s wife.
Another reappearing character is Marina. In the story “How I Met My Wife,” she’s the girlfriend who becomes the wife.
The story tells of the man’s triple faux pas on their first date: He asks what kind of dressing she wants on her Caesar salad; he spills a glass of wine; and thirdly he mispronounces the name of the wine they’re drinking.
The Marina character is also in the story “Death.” It begins with a boy trying to figure out what the phrase “kick the bucket” means. It moves forward with the boy, now an adult, relating his mother’s fight with cancer and concludes in a future time when the son/adult is the subject of his own obituary. The obit contains humorous, unexpected wordplay with the phrase “kick the bucket.”
And Marina has a major presence alongside Guy (fictionalized Mary and Gary?) in “The Cat Under the Stairs.” It’s a charming tale about a much-loved cat named Baxter and other felines in their home.
Priester is an imaginative, clever writer whose style holds the reader’s interest.
Each of these stories has its own offbeat, and sometimes a funny-ha-ha or funny-strange elements.
The author acknowledged that some of the stories are inspired by real-life occurrences, while others are pure whimsy. Priester said he’s already written 12 new short stories for the next planned collection.
“I’m going to keep going until I get to 16 and see if I have enough for a book length,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun doing it and discovering part of my creativity that I haven’t used before.”