In this wide-ranging collection, characters must cope with changing, hazardous landscapes and wrestle with fundamental truths about themselves.
The stories in Bunn’s collection are a disparate bunch, ranging from realistic period pieces to studies of intimacy and sexuality to fundamentally altered takes on history. “When You Are the Final Girl” riffs on horror-film tropes, as its protagonist’s reaction to past trauma is to become knowingly monstrous, while “How to Win an Unwinnable War” taps into Cold War fear to tell the story of a teenager channeling anxiety at his parents’ crumbled marriage into simulations of nuclear war. Bunn also ventures into less realistic territory with “Griefer,” largely set in the final days of an online role-playing game slated for shutdown—though the juxtaposition of this with ripples in its narrator’s marriage leads to one of the book’s neater conclusions. “Ledge” takes the opposite approach: What begins as a story of nautical intrigue and repressed desire around the time of Queen Isabella’s reign in Spain slowly becomes something far more mysterious, playing off the reader’s expectations of history and realism. Some of this collection’s most impressive moments come when delving into emotionally messy terrain. The protagonists of “Everything, All at Once” and “Curious Father” deal with the implosions of their marriages in very different ways: in the case of the former, via investigating her mother’s romantic history; in the case of the latter, via a late-in-life reckoning with his sexuality.
Bunn’s compelling stories are at their best when navigating chaotic landscapes, whether emotional or literal.