Poet/painter/novelist Major (From Now On: New and Selected Poems 1970-2015, 2015, etc.) gives us a new collection of 23 short stories that explore the full range of the human condition.
“Temporary Business,” the opening tale, concerns itself with the potent drama of two people who have just begun to live together. With her own marriage in crisis, Isa, described as being intelligent, with “a great splash of red hair” and a “musical voice,” has invited herself to stay with Edward, an old friend of her mother’s, and figure out what she wants next. Wading through the undercurrents of sexual tension, Isa and Edward bicker over his eating habits and “make love in the afternoon, lying across the bed, half-dressed.” Major brilliantly hones in on the specific, detailed moments of their lives to articulate the intricacies of character and relationships, like bright swatches of color across a dark canvas. Here is an elegant union of craftsmanship and emotional truth. Further into the collection, Major showcases his ability to use different styles to enhance the telling of a tale. The title story is a Shakespearean monologue of death and family drama set during the hottest days of a Chicago summer, couched in the guise of a single phone call. Of particular note is the frank, matter-of-fact exploration of sexuality that permeates various tales, among them “Gelasia’s Problem,” “Girl in a Boat,” and “Driving Kenneth Home.” Here we have the best of literary fiction: visceral characters and compelling plots. However, the brief length Major favors sometimes precludes a level of reflection that would add depth to each individual piece.
With Major’s attention to rhythm and the musicality of language, the result is a delightful feast for the senses.