Super America, the ironically and well-suited titled book of Anne Panning's nine short stories is, in a word, real. By taking everyday people, situations, and circumstances, and combining them in nine different ways, she creates unnatural yet believable scenarios with all ranges of emotions. As they experience birth and death, fortune and tragedy, wealth and poverty, Panning's characters stay well rendered yet ambiguous enough to be someone we all know.
The title story starts in a gas station parking lot named Super America, and traces a theater major's embarrassment of his uneducated, small-town father. In "Tidal Wave," a gay man tries to save a newlywed's ring, all the while mourning the fact that he can't marry himself. In another story, a disabled postal worker tries to reclaim her husband's affection by spending lawsuit money on his business schemes, in hopes that he'll spend time on her. In "Five Reasons I miss the Laundromat," Panning summarizes the whole book, with each reason being a recurring theme: feeling out of place, infidelity, unhappy marriages, memories, and intimacy.
True to America, class plays a major role. In that title story, a student is told, "Don't talk college. That was my one rule about you going off to the Cities like that. Don't be an ass. You got to talk normal. You gotta stay who you are."
As a whole, Panning's nine stories work well together and provide the reader a variety of emotions and imagination. Most stand on their own, but a few fall through the cracks and don't read nearly as well without the others.
Even so, the overall message of Super America is unclear. Often, the "super-ness" of America seems facetious, while sometimes it's honest and hopeful. In a few stories, the reader isn't provided with a clear answer and must decide for oneself how super America really is.