A collection of subdued tales features characters who can neither evade the past nor confront the inevitable future.
John Fromme, narrator of the book’s titular and longest story, is a schizophrenic freelance writer. When his wife, Janet, frantically tells him their son, Ted, is missing, the two eventually find him with John’s mother, Charlene. It seems that Ted, ashamed of his dad’s condition, may want to live with Grandma. But as John and Janet argue with Charlene over who should be Ted’s guardian, readers are privy to John’s skewered perception. Voices in his head, for one, are personified, including look-alikes Lana and Carly, who talk to him as Janet and Charlene’s dispute presses on. Charlene points to the family’s history of mental illness, but John’s recollection of his past soon has him questioning his own memories. Characters in the other five, much shorter stories may not have a clearly defined disorder like John, but they are similarly afflicted. Nathan Ploegger, in “The Offering,” for example, is an American obsessed with finding a strange woman he met while touring the Yucatán, an obsession that may prove disastrous. In “I, Singularity,” Harold, blind since birth, experiences unbearable headaches. Surgery may help, but early tests lead to a surprise that could change Harold’s life as well as his relationship with his clingy sister Tess. In many ways, “Complementarities” is reminiscent of a soap opera, as Frankie’s affair with Juanita, the girlfriend of his pal Jimmy Sheephorn, invariably results in deceit and discontent. But like all of the tales, it’s shackled with an almost cruel predetermination: readers, in this case, know from the beginning that Jimmy’s died horribly. Mustin (We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile, 2013, etc.) rounds out his book with “Object of Affection” and “The Phantom.” In the former, a mother tells of her son Carlos, a celebrity athlete whose rise to fame is curtailed by a faster and miserable drop from the spotlight. The latter and closing story is also the most upbeat: baseball fanatic Karl has a shot at a career in his favorite sport—and his grandfather’s special homemade baseball is along for the ride.
Often despondent, but the brooding characters will stick in readers’ heads like emotional glue.