This debut collection of genial short stories showcases a new voice whose dulcet tones are mixed, unfortunately, with bad timing. Grunke (who teaches writing for the Minnesota arts agency COMPAS) creates characters in semi-difficult situations, but often brings them to trite endings. In the title story, a man anxiously wonders whether he will be invited to stay permanently with his lover, Rae, a lawyer who would be irritatingly competent except that she suffers from panic attacks. The narrator gets off some wonderful lines (Rae, who takes excessively hot, brief showers in the morning ``wants to be as clean and useful as a surgical instrument''), but untangling their living situation requires only a single, direct conversation—and a flat one at that. In ``Happy Hour,'' Ben reveals to his wife that he has fallen in love with a male co-worker and leaves her. The encounter of the three of them is appropriately discomfiting from start to finish, but the story deteriorates as Sally mopes around, and a final scene in which she meets Ben with his lover puts too much weight on a delicate construction. Grunke succeeds in relaying information obliquely, but then makes the same points directly anyway. In ``Creation,'' three generations of women gather in the matriarch's kitchen. Their conversation intersects beautifully, creating some delightful non sequiturs, and the dips into the women's private thoughts are illuminating, but Grunke's further explanations of those thoughts land with a crash. An AIDS-stricken brother of ``First Born Son'' maintains such a Christ-like demeanor, easily forgiving his often ignorant family, that the story is wholly drained of subtlety and, with it, strength. Stories that are, in the end, too eager to please.
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