A first collection of ten stories that explore modern romance and physical intimacy in a variety of styles and approaches, most often discovering a love that feels ancient.
The title piece is a love story that starts at a Safeway. It’s modern both in the way the lovers exchange their flirtations (AOL instant messaging) and in sexual preference (two men), but nevertheless it aims at purity and nostalgia by making its target the lovers’ first kiss. Sometimes the stories here are straightforward, other times distant and nearly without character, as in “What I Wanted Most of All,” a meditation that tries to demonstrate that one’s sexual indoctrination and career form a distinct narrative that touches everything else in one’s life as well. The dreamy pieces are the ones that please the most here, as though the very depersonalization of the tales makes their truths more intimate. There are echoes of Steve Dixon’s tone in works like “Twenty-Six Hours, Twenty-Five Minutes,” another dreamy monologue from bachelors trying to build a vocabulary for the dos and don’ts that make the ground rules of modern dating, and “Sweet Nothings,” in which an accidental compliment paid to a stranger in a restaurant is a springboard for a distant, almost characterless treatment of lonely affection. Other stories follow a woman whose romantic life seems to run parallel to events in pop culture (JonBenet, Princess Di), and a man who conducts a flirtatious relationship with a woman not his wife. Themes never stray far, as when a man in “Anything But a Gentleman” finds himself lingering over the picture of a woman in a magazine: “He wanted the end of all of that emotion that was the impetus of the sexual desire, the reason for the thrill of looking at the picture in the first place.”
It’s the approach here that varies rather than the theme. Still, a wide sampling from a promising talent.