IF MY BOOK: We Could’ve Been Happy Here, Keith Lesmeister

Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors shed light on their recently released books by comparing them to weird things.This week Keith Lesmeister writes about his debut story collection, We Could Have Been Happy Here, out now from Midwestern Gothic.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a gas station, it would be a Kum & Go at 2:00 a.m. on October 3, 1998, with a payphone out front mounted to the exterior wall, next to a stack of pre-bundled wood for sale, and propane tanks protected by an iron cage. Also for sale.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a brand of gasoline, it would be 10% ethanol, not because ethanol is great, but because ethanol is essentially alcohol, made of corn, and grown in Iowa.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a convenient store sandwich, it would be a chicken salad sandwich on a croissant doused heavy with horseradish mayonnaise and red onions, and eaten by someone driving a twenty-year-old Toyota Corolla with fading bumper stickers left on by the previous two owners.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a gas station novelty item, it would be something small enough to hide and steal in the palm of one’s hand, then packaged as a gift to some distant relative who lives in a sleepy agricultural town somewhere between Des Moines and Dubuque.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a fountain drink, it would be a suicide—a small splash from each of the available twelve options contained in a twenty-four-ounce plastic cup—purchased by an eleven-year-old. Why not choose one? Here’s why: the eleven year old would be too indecisive—and excited—to settle on one because her parents rarely, if ever, offer such a purchase, and besides, she’s only heard of this indulgence of corn syrup from friends at school, and she wants to be able to brag about something at the playground during recess on Monday.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a gas station bathroom, it’d be unisex, with a urinal in one corner and a toilet in the other, and an overflowing trash receptacle full of wet and damp paper towels, and artwork on the wall—paintings of pheasants and whitetail deer looking peaceful and serene, standing in the midst of snow-matted prairie grasses.

If We Could’ve Been Happy Here were a gas station parking lot it would be concrete dotted with oil stains, four gas pumps, and an old beat up air machine with a cardboard sign duct-taped to the outside that said “free” written in black sharpie and a cracked hose wrapped carelessly around a hose mount. A few trucks parked out front with their motors idling, waiting for their owners to come back with slices of pizza and twelve-packs of Busch Light.

Keith Lesmeister is the author of the story collection We Could’ve Been Happy Here (MG Press). His most recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gettysburg Review, North American Review, Sycamore Review, BULL, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. A graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, Lesmeister currently lives and works in northeast Iowa.

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