This year’s winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction offers seven stories and a novella pervaded by a sense of aloneness, of disconnection even from those with whom the central characters are supposedly most intimate.
“Morte Infinite” depicts the tragedy of a young girl whose love for her father only increases as she watches his mental state deteriorate. The mother in “Swimming in the Dark” mistakenly believes she has shared a moment of secret intimacy with her younger son, but he knows better. In “Code,” a Kafkaesque nightmare of corporate bureaucracy, isolation is part of the protagonist’s unbearable anxiety. In “Kopy Kats,” a copy-shop clerk is dramatically affected—leaving behind girlfriend and job—after helping a customer who falls unconscious in his doorway, with the recovered customer regarding him as an irrelevant stranger. Crouse often uses class differences to put wedges between lovers. The woman at the center of “Retreat” has compromised with herself and the truth to maintain her prosperous married life. In “The Ugliest Boy,” a working-class high-school boy is hopelessly in love with a well-off girl bound for the Ivy League although his closer connection is with the girl’s disfigured older brother. In “Cry Baby,” the author of a memoir about his poverty-stricken childhood with an abusive father—another recurring motif—confronts truths about his best friend and himself that he cannot acknowledge in print, or to his wife. The novella, “Click,” follows a young man who is engaged to a “comfortable” young woman but who finds himself drawn to photographing a drug-addled, part-time prostitute. He is repulsed and attracted to the dangers and extremity of her shattered life, but in the end opts for his fiancée’s sane mediocrity.
Despite a surfeit of crybabies, Crouse’s bleak outlook is richly complex and deeply felt.