The mysteries of family run deep in this unsettling collection of stories about blood ties that bind, unravel and strangle.
Though D’Ambrosio is hardly among the most prolific writers of the contemporary American short story, he ranks with the best. After receiving some good notices for his debut collection (The Point, 1995), he should raise his popular profile among fans of literary fiction with the eight stories in this long-awaited follow-up. Through narration that is never omniscient and often untrustworthy, D’Ambrosio challenges readers to navigate their way (as his characters do) amid complex relationships, conflicting impulses and perceptions of the present shaped profoundly by the past. Many of the stories also concern some form of mental illness that tests the familial bonds, though the distinction between sanity and delusion throughout this fiction can be slippery. “Screenwriter” details a crumbling marriage and a budding romance under suicide watch in the psych ward. Two characters claim to be screenwriters. Maybe both of them are. Maybe neither is. The results are as deadpan funny as they are indelibly sad. In “The High Divide,” two boys on a camping trip find themselves trying to deal with the unfathomable, using words to express what words can’t say, in language that explores the emotional limits of language. Within the devastating “Up North,” a turkey shoot reveals the secret truths that husbands and wives, fathers and daughters, men and men, keep from each other. And from themselves. The title story goes behind the scenes of a bondage porno flick, while the concluding “The Bone Game” finds a grandson from a wealthy family coming to terms with his inheritance, and risking everything, on a reckless mission to scatter his grandfather’s ashes. In his range of subject matter and narrative strategies, D’Ambrosio displays considerable creative ingenuity, yet his achievement extends well beyond formal invention. His fictional universe brims with the bittersweet richness of life.
An emerging master of the short story returns with a collection that should expand his readership.