Jackie Gleason was a great comic in general, but he was the unsurpassed master of the slow burn, which he perfected on "The Honeymooners" working off Art Carney. Whenever Carney would do something moronic, Gleason would stand there shocked, his eyes bulging and cheeks puffed out. Viewers could tell he wanted to explode, but he kept trying to hold it in, and the longer he did, the more Carney became encouraged to act even goofier which got Gleason even more upset and twitching and red in the face ... until he finally exploded. It was Gleason's perfectly timed wait and struggle to control himself that was much funnier than the actual explosion.
Donald Wells' excellent short story, "Anger Management" is the literary equivalent of Gleason's slow burn. The nameless narrator is a college coed whose father has just completed a court-mandated anger management program following an incident at a shopping mall in which the father (who was trained in martial arts) beat the daylights out of another driver after the two got in a silly dispute over a parking place. Now that Dad's completed the course and is much calmer (supposedly), the daughter takes him out to lunch to celebrate. She's still leery about letting him behind the wheel, but he assures her he's fine.
Naturally, things don't go smoothly on their little excursion. First, the father finds his car boxed in at the restaurant parking lot by another car whose driver is nowhere to be found. When he does show up, he turns out to be a complete jerk. Naturally, dad's blood starts to boil, but he tries to hold it in. Later, father and daughter are caught in traffic behind another driver who insists on spending inordinate amounts of time texting at each red light, oblivious to the frustrated father following behind.
"Anger Management" is a short story, about 20 pages, so Wells can only let this go on for so long before revealing how the father resolves his frustration. Like Gleason before him, Wells is a master of timing here, letting the story go on just long enough to get the father very upset (and legitimately, justifiably so) over the delays and frustrations he's facing that are not his fault. The audience has enough time to wonder how the story is going to be resolved, but Wells does not let it drag on to the stage where the action feels repetitive. Instead, the story is just long enough to establish the character types in the story (obviously in a story this short, there won't be fully developed characters) and whet the audience's curiosity about what the father will do.
It's very rare that I read a story on any length on Amazon that I don't find some fault with. However, "Anger Management" is as perfectly constructed and entertaining a story as I have read in a long time. Wells tells the story with just the right light touch to keep readers amused without turning the situation into either a serious psychotic episode or out-and-out silliness. Finally, Wells nails the ending, both surprising and satisfying readers. In looking back over this story, I can't think of one single word I would change.
I received this story for free as a promotion, and I normally put a caveat in my reviews about paying money (in this case 99 cents) for a story like this that can be read in 10 minutes (the story itself takes up about half the book; the remainder is a bibliography of the prolific Wells's other works and a couple of excerpts from them). In this case, however, I'll make an exception and wholeheartedly recommend "Anger Management." It's well worth the 99 cents. Readers will only be angry at themselves if they manage to miss out on this terrific little story.