Sullivan, Andrew F. All We Want is Everything. ARP Books: Winnipeg, 2013. 184 pages.
Reviewed by Jana Tahtinen
Twenty stories make up Andrew F. Sullivan’s debut collection, All We Want is Everything. From “Pumpkinheads,” a story dealing with grief and the loss of a spouse, to “Self-Cleaning Oven,” a story about a woman who cannot have children, each story has a unique plot that poses questions about human life and attempts to answer them. Sullivan takes on his topics with a dark humor that draws the reader in from the first sentence and causes them to ask questions after the last.
The standout of the collection is “Pumpkinheads.” This story follows a woman whose husband dies in a work accident and who is then courted by the man who found him and is in charge of work accidents. The whole story is written in a deadpan tone that sounds exactly like someone who has experienced great loss and has an emptiness inside of them. When the woman looks at the man who found her husband’s body she only sees “some limp bird flopping toward her.” With this story, Sullivan beautifully captures the emptiness of loss.
Another noteworthy story is the shortest in the collection. Covering only three and a half pages, “God is a Place” is tiny compared to the rest of the stories but packs the powerful punch of a full-length novel. The story follows a man who is the recent father of a baby he isn’t quite sure is his. While the title might suggest religious themes, the main character is actually suffering with figuring out what he is doing with his life. In the cold of the night, on a walk in the snow, he whispers to the baby, “all your idols are crumbling,” and the reader knows the story isn’t about finding God at all.
The theme suggested in the title of this collection has a grasp on every story. You can feel its fingers snaking into each story, connecting them all, as each narrative explores how we as humans keep wanting more and are never satisfied. In “Pumpkinheads,” Sullivan writes a dark and twisted line about the machine tearing apart the woman’s husband, describing the machine as “never satisfied. It only wants more.” In “Self-Cleaning Oven,” a woman who continually has miscarriages doesn’t want to keep trying but wants someone to “hand her [a child] already, fully formed.” In the end, in both stories, Sullivan’s characters have to come to terms with the fact that the idea of having everything is unrealistic.
Overall, All We Want is Everything is a fantastic collection of short stories. Andrew F. Sullivan writes stories that are mildly disturbing in a way that makes you want to read more. This is a great debut, which will make readers eager to read Sullivan’s upcoming novel, Waste (Dzanc Books, 2016). Some of the stories, such as “Towers”–the story of what happens when a pit opens up in a poverty-stricken apartment complex, which first appeared in our 2012 issue–have outlandish plots, but readers will still find a piece of themselves in each story. No matter what, readers will end this collection thinking a little bit harder about wanting everything and being unsatisfied.
Jana Tahtinen was born and raised in Petoskey, Michigan. She served on the editorial board for volume 5 as a fiction intern. She is a junior majoring in Literature and Creative Writing and minoring in Dance and Marketing at Lake Superior State University. As a freshman, one of her short stories was a runner-up for the 2013-2014 LSSU Short Story Contest. She is the vice president of the Honors Club on campus and enjoys spending her free time writing and reading. All she has ever wanted to do is write and she can’t imagine what her life would be without the written word.