An accomplished debut collection of seven stories demonstrates the versatility of novelist Brown (The Hatbox Baby, 2000, etc.).
The images of these tales are familiar, but their emotion is not. In “Friend to Women,” a middle-aged woman confronts her fading allure and her mortality when she and her husband rent a house near where she grew up; a young artist’s lifelong project of constructing his hometown at scale in “Miniature Man” explains the nature of meaning to the doctor who narrates; a woman’s personal transformation from meaninglessness to content is revealed through her friendship with her daughter’s pen pal in “The Correspondent”; “Father Judge Run” is a dreamy coming-of-age piece featuring a parrot that quotes the Bible; another come-of-ager, “Postman,” is a dual effort and a love story besides, as a young boy and girl find that the company of the other makes the prospect of adulthood bearable and mystically exciting. Reading Brown is like eating a wonderful meal at a restaurant you know so well you can taste the style of the chef. The plots are often sweet, though what they produce in these characters’ minds may not be. In the title story, a macabre pseudo–fairy tale about a woman who accidentally winds up as a Dr. Frankenstein-like undertaker (happily recalling Graham Swift), our narrator speaks as though for the entire volume: “However little I have earned the attention of history, at least it can be said that I have been a faithful guard at the door, that I have sensed, always sensed, the obliterating force of time, the savage way our lives and all their meanings are erased.”
A delightful menu.