Iowa Short Fiction Award winner Varallo (Out Loud, 2008, etc.) offers a third collection of short literary fiction.
Young, disaffected Mira moves from one job, one relationship, to another in the allegorical "Some Other Life," believing there’s some truth in the life of a reclusive child. "Time Apart Together" explores the ennui of a college dropout and lackadaisical garage band drummer. The young man shills for a soon-to-collapse credit company and attempts to shed Ursula, a girl obsessed with being wanted. Varallo moves the setting to high schools in "Everybody Knew," "Slow Car" and "Tragic Little Me." The first of the trio offers an unusual premise—a student confirms his self-absorption when he unwittingly puts on a class comedy skit the day after a fellow student dies. "Tragic Little Me" introduces Leaf, introverted and intellectually incurious but with a gift for art. Leaf appears again in the penultimate story, "Lucky Us," sharing an unsettled home with her mother and grandmother. That story crackles with an unexpected, electrifying moment as the grandmother is confronted by a mugger. As the young thug attempts to steal her takeout meal, she bites him, and "he screamed out in pain" and then "looked at Miriam as if she were someone who contained surprising depths. Someone worthy, even, of his worthless respect. He winked at her." The remaining stories, "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," "After the Finale," "No One at All" and the titular story feature in turn a supercilious writing student, a befuddled grandfather, a lonely young boy and a jobless father. Each of them, as with every other piece, unfolds with a sense of alienation, of children struggling to cope in a complex world and adults confused by circumstance.
Varallo has a striking talent for drawing realistic characters, especially young people, and dropping them into situations where resolutions are hard-earned and not always satisfying.