4 out of 4 stars
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Masquerade Ball by Peter Rouleau is an eclectic collection of seven short stories that range from touching to hilarious. One story is told from the perspective of speeches being given at a wedding, with flashbacks spanning decades to provide the reader with a full picture of the lives of the brides being toasted. A particularly outlandish, yet believable, story details how a group of teenagers faked an alien abduction to bring attention to their town in an attempt to bolster its failing economy. Other narratives span from a nervous man on his first blind date to a woman forced to make tough decisions after an unplanned pregnancy.
Varying in length, each story is written in a creative voice that completely draws in your attention. Despite the short story format, each unique piece finds the reader intrigued and completely invested in all of the characters. There are unexpected twists and turns that will invariably have you laughing out loud one minute and wiping tears from your face the next. Many of the stories focus on handling the curve balls that everyday life hands you: layoffs, divorce, and family relationships. Other stories gently tackle major social issues like reproductive rights, religion, and gay marriage. All subjects are handled with grace, aplomb, and just the perfect amount of humor.
Each story I read had me instantly connected. Rouleau softened me up with a cute story about a nervous man’s first date after he jumps into the world of Internet dating. The further I read, the more significant the messaging of each story became. It is instantly clear that the author has a connection with the Washington DC metro area. Many of the stories are set in Maryland, Virginia, and the Eastern Shore. Any local to these areas will appreciate Rouleau’s well-incorporated references to local places and events.
This book was so thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing that it demands a rating of 4 out of 4 stars, and I happily acquiesce. The writing style was sharp and clean; I never found myself bored or looking forward to the end of the book. While I found a few missing or mixed up words, it is obvious that this book has been professionally edited. Residents of Maryland would delight at all of the local references, and anyone who enjoys reading about the human condition will become completely absorbed by this collection of stories. Some of these stories put very human faces on the talking points we hear in the national news; this is integral to helping us understand the complex issues behind what have become overly simplified political pawns.
This collection of stories can be taken at face value as a fun way to spend a few hours immersing yourself in stories about everyday people. However, upon finishing the book I noticed a major theme running through all of the stories. Every person we meet has a story, a past, and an inner conflict that is driving them. We need to take the time to really see each other as individuals and treat each other as such. Take time to slow down and see each person for the tremendous, complex individual that resides within all of us. Like a masquerade ball, we are all hiding our true faces from each other.
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