These short stories of awkward relationships and crossed destinies take readers to such unusual locations as post-Soviet Russia, the Juilliard School campus, and a state-of-the-art penitentiary.
DePew’s (The Melancholy of Departure, 2013, etc.) collection takes its name from a song in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, which features prominently in the title story. In it, a theater company ventures into Russia shortly after the fall of communism, and they must contend with the shaky environment and its foreboding politics. At the story’s center, Arthur and Irene are close friends and confidants, but their inexplicably platonic relationship becomes strained as uncertainties mount. As they try to explain their artsy gibberish to the cynical Russians they meet, the Western thespians echo the stories’ major motif of artists in crisis. In each of the narratives, a creative professional attempts to reconcile artistic endeavors with the confusion of ordinary life. In “Blind,” Jacob and Miranda are musicians who can’t get their marriage to harmonize; Jacob is too stiff and literal to keep Miranda’s attention, so she prefers the company of a dramatic gossip named Frank. Each story happens in a unique place and time, and the characters endure a variety of burdens, but in each, their desire to be artists is hindered by painful contact with other people. The protagonist of “La Casita,” for example, is a painter who declares, “I have to confess that I’ve sacrificed the sacraments for pigment and linseed oil and scratching away at a surface all day.” The sentiment is beautiful—but then he adds: “And for this I’ve been sent a particular torture: postmodernism.” DePew’s patiently told and beautifully crafted stories are lengthy; three are so long they might be classified as novellas. However, that fact gives the author the space he needs to build two worlds—the artists’ inner lives and the daily existences they struggle with. Overall, they reveal both the turmoil of creativity and the meandering beauty of ordinary human interaction.
A diverse collection of rich and eloquent tales.