Curtis explores subjects mundane and fantastical in her first book, a collection of stories.
The subtitle promises “tales of love and money,” and when she actually focuses on money and its absence, or on the forces that bring people together and push them apart, Curtis is outstanding. In “Hungry Self” and “Summer, with Twins,” she renders the fraught monotony and borderline poverty of waitressing in exquisite detail, and, in the former story, she captures the dumb grandiloquence and frequent hopelessness of adolescent longing in one magnificent line: “I was terribly in love with him, but we were separated by race and by the fact that he hated me.” “The Alpine Slide,” the story of a girl's first job at a doomed summer attraction, covers similar ground and is similarly excellent, and the title story is a bleak, tender, well-crafted look at a dissolute family losing its one chance at solvency and cohesion. These are the stories that first appeared in publications like the New Yorker and Harper’s, and it's easy to see why. Then, there are the other stories: the one about a family deciding which of their number will be taken by monsters, the one about outwitting werewolves, the halting portrait of a vaguely dystopian marriage. These stories fall into an unfortunate subgenre of current speculative fiction in which a wacky concept and ironic execution take the place of real storytelling. They fail to please not just because they do not fulfill the subtitle's promise of thematic unity, but also because they're just not very good. Curtis would have been wise to delay publication until she had a sufficient number of first-rate stories that reflect her considerable talent.
A disjointed debut.