Slim collection of uninspiring coming-of-age stories by the winner of University of Iowa’s John Simmons Award for Short Fiction.
Varallo’s narrators desperately want to fit in with their families and social groups, yet don’t quite have that lovable quality. June, the young protagonist of the title story, hopes to be “one of those people who always knew the exact right thing to say at the exact right moment” as she navigates between the animosity of her mother and grandmother. She spends weekends visiting her bewildered, critical grandmother, who steals a pair of swim goggles at the mall partly from a sense of entitlement, partly because her daughter and granddaughter don’t love her. The hyper-observant first-person narrator of “Sometimes I’m Becky Macomber,” whose own family configuration is somehow ruptured, wants so badly to have a happy home life that when she stays overnight with her friend Becky, she tends to smooth the edges in the Macombers’ marital relations. In the epistolary “Be True to Your School,” a young boy writes to a friend who has moved away, jotting impressions of his single mother and his friend Liz in a painful attempt to “fix” himself and control his tendency to always be “angry,” an adolescent euphemism for feeling moved. “Sunday Wash” poignantly shows Jody trying to come to terms with the presence of his mother’s boyfriend Ron after the death of his father. Helping Ron move out boxes of his father’s effects, Jody is annoyed with himself for crying, since now “Ron had seen that part of him that was ugly and embarrassing.”
Uncomfortable moments of adolescent epiphany marked by oblique dialogue, little sense of place and less humor.