Beyond a Book Review: Damage Control by Amber Dermont

There’s no good way to describe how I’ve been feeling these days. It’s been just under two weeks since I graduated from Rice. Two weeks exactly since I moved out of my home there, Martel college. It’s been two weeks on the job hunt for a summer position, trying to remind myself that being away from my Houston friends and working to temporarily resettle myself in Austin will all be worth it when I get to graduate school in Toronto. But if I think about that for too long then I remember how I’ll be moving to a new country and a city that I’ve never been to . . . I know it’ll all be an adventure, a life-shaping step, a new immersive experience in international theatre, but for right now I find myself blocked by the worries associated with this looming transition.

Damage Control (book cover)

Photo Credit: Houston Chronicle

So instead I’d rather talk about the book I began reading this past week, Damage Control by Amber Dermont. It wasn’t the first book I read this summer and if it hadn’t of been for a few key experiences during my last semester at Rice, I wouldn’t have purchased this particular collection of short stories. I wouldn’t know of Amber Dermont, or gotten the chance to not only meet her, but participate in a short craft lesson about writing the perfect opening sentence.

Author Amber Dermont

Photo Credit: T. W. Meyer

Still, I didn’t know that when I opened the first page that I would be reading the perfect book for this moment. I didn’t know that I was aching for something familiar when I began the second story, the title story, and realized that the young man in it was running an etiquette school in Houston. I devoured the pages, delighting in the fact that I knew the River Oaks area and had also visited the Menil Collection to see works by Rene Magritte. The main character, Mr. Foster, is in a moment of great transition: his fiancee has just been indicted for some big time money fraud and because of it, his personal life and career are both in jeopardy. Although there is a sense of finality by the end of the story, nothing is solved. The transition is still happening. It’s just a snapshot of life, captured for what it is.

Not all of the stories in the collection are my favorites. Not all of them gave me that comforting familiar feel. In fact, some of them were hard to read at first; Dermont cares so much more about diving straight into character that the opening pages were often too dense for one read. Unlike some of her protagonists, I haven’t had to deal with meddling mother-in-law’s or served as a professional granddaughter, but each story made me think long and hard about the characters cataloging their defining moments, their personal life transitions. All of the stories are deeply present. They are meant to capture one slice of life.

I don’t know how that will help me thrive through the next three months. it means that I might not be able to see the value of my experiences until after them. I may not be able to find a stable place to stand. But it does teach me two things.
1) My fiction professor last fall told us that each character should meet his or her perfect fate at the end of the story. He told us that these clues were there in the beginning of the stories and that the key to “fixing” the right ending would be going back to read the introduction over again. These stories demonstrate that. Though they don’t “end” often or tie up the loose ends, each character meets his or her perfect fate.
2) I have to keep writing my own story. I have to keep capturing my own snapshots of my life. I can’t read the signs in them now. I can’t predict the end, but I can save them so I can continue delighting in the familiar and processing the new.

Most importantly, this means that I’m back.


About austinausten88

Playwright in love with Classic films, afternoon tea, and Noel Coward. She recently graduated from Rice University. In the fall, she will be exchanging her English major undergraduate status for that of Theatre & Performance Studies graduate student.
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