In her first collection, novelist Ward (Forgive Me, 2008, etc.) gently and discreetly invites us into her characters’ lives.
The author’s quiet, understated stories pack a paradoxical punch. They also reveal their author as a master of the beguiling opening sentence. “It’s a crappy coincidence that on the day James asks for my hand in marriage, there is a masturbator loose in the library” lures us into “Butte as in Beautiful” and compels us to go on. Many of the stories have multiple narrative threads, because Ward’s characters live on both personal and social planes. In the heartbreaking “The Stars Are Bright in Texas,” the narrator and her husband fly to Houston to look at houses two days after she’s had a miscarriage. The first day of looking at McMansions distresses them still further, but they finally find the perfect home, only to be outbid on it. “There will be another,” promises their realtor, and the narrator has a piercing epiphany: “There would be another, there would. But I wanted the one that was gone.” The narrator of “Shakespeare.com” hates her work environment, in which “you could like Hello Kitty, and you could like gas station hot dogs, but talking about liking your husband was queer.” The final six pieces, clustered as “Lola Stories,” follow the eponymous protagonist through eight or so years of her life, from getting jilted by a man who weds Miss Montana, through her impulsive marriage to a geologist, to the birth of her two children, one of whom she fears might be autistic. Along the way we learn of Lola’s mother Nan, who disapproves of the marriage, and also of Fred, Nan’s dysfunctional runaway husband, whose cruelty and craziness mar every relationship he engages in.
Luminous work from a gifted writer.