A set of neo-Gothic tales that seek out the line between sanity and madness in modern suburbia.
The stories in this collection by Morrow (The Diviner’s Tale, 2011, etc.) consistently cultivate a tone of creepy unease. The narrator of “Tsunami” coolly explains why she killed her husband, but it slowly becomes clear to the reader that she’s unaware of the degree to which she’s become undone by a series of tragedies in her life, while her fixation on global catastrophes underscores her loss of perspective. “Ellie’s Idea” gives this slow kind of mental decline a slightly comic pitch: Determined to put her life in order after her husband leaves her, the narrator calls people she feels she’s slighted, which does more harm than good. Adolescents abound in these stories, and it’s easy to see why Morrow finds them appealing—they exemplify a mix of growing confusion about and awareness of the world. The title story focuses on two young sisters who pine for a brother they never had, while “The Enigma of Grover’s Mill” centers on a 15-year-old boy who’s struggling to negotiate the new man in his grandmother’s life and his own awkward sexual awakening. Each story is skillfully turned, though a sameness to the insanity emerges—nearly everybody who loses it is hyperliterate and heartbroken, and ghoulish twists have a way of leaping from the final paragraphs. The best stories play with form: In “(Mis)laid,” parenthetical comments offer retorts to an official narrative about a man taking his estranged wife hostage, and the closing “Lush” smartly alternates narratives between an alcoholic’s grueling path to sobriety and a woman who becomes an unlikely part of his life.
The eeriness of these stories grows overly familiar, but there’s no question Morrow knows how to conjure a mood.