A collection of contemporary short stories with some touches of magic realism.
Anger seems to be the dominant theme running through the seven stories in Crane’s debut collection. Readers are treated to angry employees like the protagonists of “The Little Flower of the Newsroom” and the haunting “The Last Day is Better than the First”; characters who seem unnaturally predisposed to anger like those in the title story and “The Judgement of the Light”; and a trio of angry old ladies in “The Sleeper Awakes,” “The Ghost” and “Return of the Prodigal.” Women in general come across as a mean-spirited, conniving, murderous group who are only slightly redeemed by the more goodhearted women of the final story, “The Judgment of the Light.” Crane produces spot-on descriptions like that of an old man’s body that was “as thin and shapeless as a can of Pringles” and clever turns of phrase such as “[h]e’d learned to live with it, the way people learn to live with leprosy or a criminal record,” but at times the phrases are clunky, like the narrator’s description of his life in the title story as “an accretion of uninteresting contingencies” or the explanation from “The Ghost” that “their moral calculus conferred upon father and son a right to unrestrained verbal vengeance.” Tales like “The Little Flower of the Newsroom,” with its clever title and unexpected conclusion, and the haunting glimpse into the mind of a mass murderer in “The Last Day is Better than the First,” make this slim volume worthy of further exploration. Readers will likely have more difficulty identifying with the mentally unbalanced first-person narrator of the title story and the angry young protagonist of “The Judgement of the Light.” Also difficult to identify with are Mrs. Marion from “The Ghost” and the elderly woman in “The Sleeper Awakes,” both of whom are filled with hatred for their daughters-in-law, though it’s possible that, based on the images only she can see on a static-filled television channel, the latter may be justified in her disapproval.
This quick read is a mixed bag of dark, disturbing stories, with a couple of literary gems.