Eight debut tales that have emerged from a wacky modern world.
Bauman’s stories catch the frail wave of pop culture but ride it smoothly, not relying on its zaniness to bring interest to her characters. “The Middle of the Night” follows a precocious child as she struggles toward adulthood in a family disintegrating under the weight of alcoholism; the reader watches her indulge in midnight phone conversations with her father’s estranged mistress. In “Wash, Rinse, Spin,” a law school student is yanked from her modern life to attend to the chores involved in assisting in the care of her vibrant but degenerating father; the title story tags along behind an ultramodern high-school cheerleader who doesn’t have enough fingers to count the men at the football game she’s slept with as she navigates a world also populated with Jung and Henry James. A girl with a lousy personality in “True” encounters the prettiest boy alive (“Worse yet, he knew how to be pretty. He wore his prettiness like a smart jacket”) and, once alone, the two discover the only thing in the world better than being nice. And a woman’s breakdown in a New York City office in “Wildlife in America” leads her to migrate to New Jersey, where pop culture is sufficiently suffused, and a hold-up at a minimart just might bring true love. These pieces all have their foundation in solid storytelling but stray from it in just the same way that pop culture seems to have strayed away from aesthetic purity. Bauman is on a trek similar to Mary Robison’s or Grace Paley’s in her painting of a world where the representation of a thing has become as important as the thing itself: “Inggy was the most beautiful girl on the poster, although there was more to it than that. On that windy November day she was there in her photo, fully herself.”
Promising vision and a powerful start.