Tyrone Jaeger’s collection of linked short stories, “So Many True Believers,” succeeds on two levels. Each individual story is a well-crafted look into the desperate situations Jaeger’s characters create for themselves and those around them. Together, as many of the characters reappear in various tales and combinations, the stories form a satisfying mural of intersections.
Of the individual stories, “These Are My Arms” is my favorite. The story features Jeremy, a teacher at a school for at-risk but privileged high schoolers. Jeremy attempts to expand his students’ horizons while also allowing them autonomy. He’s not above bending — or breaking — the rules to support them. Soon enough, the precocious, boundary-pushing students have landed themselves and Jeremy in significant trouble.
Here, Jeremy’s wife, Darla, theorizes about identity in contemporary society: “‘The sign post of our age is the sign post,’ Darla said. ‘We map our identities with logos, brands and on computer sites. If you don’t identify yourself, the community will do it for you.’”
While such social commentary is certainly central to “So Many True Believers,” Jaeger keeps the focus firmly on the characters and their individual desires and failings. As characters recur, echoes of their actions in other stories deepen our understanding of the current narrative. The stories are not arranged chronologically, so the reader moves back and forth in time as the book unfolds. This, too, adds complexity and depth to the whole.
Jaeger’s book isn’t long — it features nine stories over about 150 pages — but it is rich in character and incident. “So Many True Believers” will have readers believing in Jaeger’s skills as a storyteller.
What: Tyrone Jaeger, Theodore Wheeler and Dave Madden read from their work
Where: Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., Iowa City
When: 2 p.m. Sunday