In William Petrick’s short story anthology, Video Verite and Other Stories, we are introduced to an array of memorable characters thrown into compelling situations: a gifted car mechanic’s selflessness impacts the life of a troubled BMW owner; the parents of a young man on Death Row face a documentary producer hungry for an interview with them, no matter what the cost; an adulterer takes extreme steps to rid himself of an expensive watch. At first it might seem that nothing is truly out of the ordinary here, but read on. An insidious undertow will pull you in and hold you prisoner for the duration of the read (and possibly after).
These twelve short pieces truly pack a whollop. Mr. Petrick has a great talent for imbuing the mundane with an edge that is at once subtle yet overwhelmingly disturbing. If there is a thread that runs through these tales, it is that taking things at face value is a mistake: one that may force us to pay with our hearts or even our lives in the end.
All the stories are exceptional, but two in particular stand out: “Shooting Harlem” is a scathing commentary on the type of documentary you might see on 20/20 or some other news show of that ilk. Burns, who has been assigned to film this piece by his producer, thinks he’s got it easy. His subject, Sandra, an elementary school student who lives with her mother and older sister in Harlem, will be given a college scholarship when she finishes 12th grade. Upon entering the family’s apartment, Burns is disappointed to find it clean, nicely furnished, and well maintained. When he meets Ida, he finds a strong, proud woman who is nothing like the needy, subservient welfare mother he was expecting. His expectations turn what should have been an easy shoot into an unexpectedly unpleasant challenge.
“Video Verite,” the most chilling story in the collection, is one that rivals Stephen King’s “The Long Walk” for showing how terrifying losing control can be. Ron, who works for a video production firm, volunteers to videotape his skydiving team as they embark on an afternoon of free falling bliss. The premise is simple enough, but Mr. Petrick’s deft writing and masterful eye for detail makes this one of the most harrowing tales I’ve ever read. To say more would spoil the impact. Just go. Read. Now.
Mr. Petrick is no stranger to quality story telling. He is an Emmy award winning documentary producer/director who has created programs for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, MTV, Court TV, and many other cable and broadcast networks. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed novel The Five Lost Days.
At only 140 pages, Video Verite and Other Stories is a short read, but these powerful tales will give you much to think about and will remain with you long after you’ve put the book away.