Wilson (Flatscreen, 2012) delivers a 12-story collection detailing the existential struggles of modern youth.
The millennial generation populates nearly every story, beginning with "Soft Thunder" and "The Long In-Between." Disaffected protagonists appear in the first—semislackers in a garage band share the same damaged girl—and in the second, where a young woman follows her female professor to New York City. (This second tale is the only one told from a female perspective, but it’s a distinction difficult to discern; male or female, the collection’s young protagonists always seem mired in an existential swamp.) Nevertheless, Wilson crafts artful literary phrases—"my dreams are on the surface; when I wake I only rise inches" or "music mixing with all the dust and soot in the pipes as it came up through the grates. By the time it reached me, it sounded condensed, congested." The most powerful story is "We Close Our Eyes," narrated by teenage Zach. His mother is dying of cancer; his father seems distant and disinterested; and his younger sister is seduced, then shamed by an illicit sex tape. Around this implosion hovers Father Larry, a priest whose husbandlike attention to Zach’s mother befuddles the boy. "Tell Me" finds supercilious college boys conned by an addict. Wilson’s stories are city stories, many seemingly set in and around Boston, but the title story takes place at a Texas movie location and is narrated by a young film school graduate. Here again, Wilson does yeoman work with characters, from Monica, a young leading lady already seduced by celebrity’s seamier elements, to Felix, hypercrazed writer-producer. The remaining stories—"Sluts at Heart," "America Is Me and Andy," "The Porchies" and "Milligrams"—also speak to millennial agitation at the edge of maturity, where reality is tackled with drugs, alcohol and sardonic contempt.
Bleak First-World angst, delivered with style.