Callen (Words in Rows, 2016) gives a tour of a seemingly bucolic planned neighborhood in a series of vignettes.
Readers are introduced, house by house, to the inhabitants of Heavenly Heights, a small development on a “slight elevation relative to the rest of the town,” which the omniscient narrator calls “an ideal stage for the comedy and drama of human life to unfold.” First off, there’s Reuben and Wendy Moreland, who amiably live on separate floors of their house to make their differing personalities work together. Wendy gave up a daughter to adoption before their marriage, and hopes to one day track her down. Across the street are the somewhat odd Tom and Georgiana Nickerson; Georgiana is known for her compulsion to quantify things, such as the number of squirrels in town, and Tom is rarely seen at all. Down the street are empty nesters Sonia and Mark Bittlemeier; Mark continues to work, but Sonia dreams of putting together a writing project to corral all the quotes and allusions running through her head. Margaret Sneed, a psychoanalyst, lives alone at the end of the block, and in another house, Susan Cochran raises dachshunds. When Susan suffers a stroke, it unexpectedly brings together even the most reticent members of the neighborhood. In straightforward prose, Callen ably balances comedy and drama, never allowing the narrative to tip too far in one direction, and shows a light touch in her transitions. As a result, the characters’ stories all weave together nicely, and the author is able to work some surprises into what initially seems to be a simple narrative. The neighborhood feels lived-in and true to life, and Callen pays close attention to all of its—and its inhabitants’—quirks. Those readers seeking a grand culmination to all these plot threads, however, may come away dissatisfied; the stakes remain low throughout, and the overall effect of the collection is pleasant but not weighty.
A light and breezy encapsulation of a small community.