Ten stories and a novella that give us oblique glimpses of tragedy.
Schutt’s (Prosperous Friends, 2012, etc.) distinct and economic style is on full display throughout this slim collection. She makes use of parentheticals frequently. In “The Duchess of Albany,” the main character recalls her late husband’s old age in an off-camera, single-sentence scene: “(Owen at the long table, saying to the ringing phone, ‘Go away, people. Leave us alone,’ and people pretty much did).” Schutt offers surprising reminders of the ghastly and gruesome that are never too far away. The second and penultimate stories, "The Hedges" and "Oh, the Obvious," feature accidents that occur on vacations. In each, the narrative perspective makes the reader essentially a bystander witnessing terrible, even fatal, events that befall a stranger. In “Where You Live, When You Need Me?” a mother recounts the summer when Ella, a much-needed babysitter, appeared out of nowhere. “Everyone shared Ella. She had work every day if she wanted.” Nobody ever even knew Ella’s last name, and this was no innocent time of naiveté. Indeed, this was 1984, “the summer when little parts of little bodies turned up in KFC buckets in Dumpsters in the city.” The title piece, the novella, layers the tragedy. We open on a California wildfire and then meet Mimi, a young, recent widow of a famous comedian who was four decades her senior. We see Mimi relive her own troubled childhood before she becomes an unintentional witness to another family’s tragedy. Through this, the novella—like the collection—maintains a dark wit that keeps it buoyant. In a tense conversation with her late husband’s son, Mimi is asked, “What did you and my dad ever have in common?” She answers with the perfect punch line, “He didn’t really like his kids and neither do I.”
Intimate portrayals of darkness told in Schutt’s tight and affecting prose.