A collection of stylistically varied stories that highlight more lows than highs in the tricky business of emotional investment.
A field trip for two middle-aged Eastern European journalists on a fellowship in Chicago gets bumpy when the woman’s interest in the man seems foiled by the presence of their perky young guide. Mathews (The World of Tomorrow, 2017) complicates a familiar plot as the elders reveal first loves that went badly awry amid political turmoil. The love within a close friendship waxes and wanes as a young photographer chronicles her schoolmate’s rise to rock-music fame and flameout. A couple whose home and baby are both relatively new feels additional strains when the father develops an obsession with mold in the house. This book certainly is not a love song of the homely, sentimental sort. It’s realistic without cynicism, more of an extended aria for a range of intimacies and attachments that never run smoothly. There’s some respite in humor. A circus clown realizes he has little chance with the new aerialist as she dallies with the strongman and the laughably inept lion tamer. Jokes hold together a father and two of three sons on the golf course, helping the third see why his family ties have frayed. At a critical moment, a woman chooses her life-size cardboard man over her flesh-and-blood beau. Mathews is a restless stylist, and some experiments here are less successful than others, but such efforts suggest he isn’t satisfied even with his more accomplished conventional stories, and his talent suggests he shouldn’t be.
A patchy but impressive collection from a resourceful writer.