Characters struggle to overcome their fears and fulfill their desires in a cautiously upbeat set of stories.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” could be the unofficial motto of the sensitive young adults who inhabit Black’s recognizable world. But often, they must be prodded to act. The opener, “That of Which We Cannot Speak,” sets the stage with its depiction of a divorced man trying to connect with an attractive physician at a New Year’s Eve party. Her laryngitis makes it impossible for her to speak, so they communicate via a clipboard she keeps around her neck. In the title story, a young woman conquers her jealousy over her boyfriend’s friendship with a beautiful writer with a sexy, win-win solution in which everyone gets what they want. “We’ve Got a Great Future Behind Us” introduces us to an estranged pair of well-known musicians who manage to come together one more time to write a good song about their train wreck of a marriage, and the suburban dad of “The Only Way Out Is Through” turns a family crisis, during a disastrous camping trip, into a last-ditch opportunity to bond with his troubled son. The toll of not taking action is tallied as well, when Elizabeth, the elder sister in “The Summer Before,” comes back to her family’s summer home after a years-long absence only to realize the ways in which she has not recovered from her parents' divorce. And in the mournful final episode, an aunt must face her own ambivalence toward commitment when her newly widowed sister asks her to sign on as emergency guardian for her young children. Although it could benefit from a bit more warmth toward its protagonists, this debut reads like a dream, with nary a false note.
Well-balanced collection filled with low-key charm and notable talent.