A story collection infused with loss and isolation.
Whether writing from the perspective of male, female, black, white, gay, straight, Jew or Gentile, Ebenbach, recipient of the 2005 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, focuses on the lonely soul. His landscape is dominated by individuals struggling to continue in the face of relationships failed, failing or stillborn. The title story presents the notion of Camelots as major circles of friends, something its central character, Paul, who has been stood up by a blind date, is yearning for. In “Fighting,” the protagonist has been cursed by the words “I don’t love you any more” and is desperate to offload them, making him not so different from the narrator in “Getting Back Onto Solid Foods,” whose Thanksgiving, the first since being dumped, is hard to stomach. Those hearts that are not aching from breakups or deaths (like the character in “Bridesmaid,” who has sought out frantic sexual reassurance 36 after his wife’s funeral) are alienated in other ways. The daughter in “Searching the Reef in the Off-Season” is on holiday with her mother during her parents’ divorce, and cut off as if behind glass or water. Cathy, in “The Movements of the Body,” finds her solace in alcohol, as she bears her unspoken burden of grief over her slutty daughter, impossible mother and increasingly imperiled grandson. Unsurprisingly, the weather in Ebenbach’s world is often extremely cold. Even when his characters have successfully forged links with others, like Marcus, the black, gay protagonist in “Nothing Ever Happens in White America,” there’s a sense of chilly fragility. Uniquely, in “Social Games,” a relationship might just be starting, not falling apart. In this book, it is the exception that proves the rule.
Ebenbach is a smoothly effective writer, his style low-key, realistic, unexperimental. But the emphasis on absence, depression and failure imbues his tales with dejection.