Twelve new fictions, notable for their stylistic grace and captivating selection of incident, by the author of Fitting Ends (stories: 1995).
In imagining other lives we discover the gift of empathy, these tales suggest, yet dwelling too hard or too long on other people’s experiences may lead to erasure of the self. Indeed, Chaon’s characters often seem to be renewable variations of a single personality, inevitably egocentric and selfish, but he presents these traits as the curse of the hapless dreamer. Here, dreams do not waft up out of idle enchantments and lazy afternoons; they struggle forth, life rafts offering rescue to mauled and sinking adults, usually in their 30s, who recall the genesis of their dreaming in troubled childhoods. In the title story, a car bearing an entire family disappears near a lakeside summer cabin occupied by a boy and his mother; months later, the vehicle is discovered mysteriously intact at the bottom of the lake. This eerie incident teaches the boy about the final ineffability of his world and of his own family. In another fine piece, “I Demand to Know Where You Are Taking Me,” a woman’s brother-in-law, Wendell, is convicted of rape after her lawyer husband fails to successfully defend him. The couple agrees to store Wendell’s belongings until an appeal can be made, and the foul language of his parakeet, Wild Bill, prompts the wife’s doubt about Wendell’s innocence. The volume’s brilliant centerpiece, “Big Me,” involves Andy’s childhood spying on his neighbor, a man the child is convinced represents his future self. Andy makes notes on how to avoid becoming this distasteful man and is eventually caught snooping; the moment when the neighbor reads his life, inscribed in Andy’s notebook, as a foretelling of the boy’s is a breathtaking arrangement, a renewal of fiction’s special power. Chaon’s work is especially notable for his casually precise prose and deep intelligence for the resonant scene.
A gem of a second collection from an immensely promising writer of unmistakably original—and distinctively rewarding—literary gifts.