Seventeen stories, some from the New Yorker, GQ, and Best American Short Stories, are co-winner of this year’s Flannery O’Connor Award.
“I remember summer better than I remember winter, day better than night, and the white litter of Broadway flying waist high when the wind picked up,” says a typical Allen narrator. When not in a first-person, simulated-memoir mode, the third-person stories are about a character named George, who might very well be the author of the rest of these stories, many of them quite admirable even if they do read more like monologues than narratives. It’s as if they’d taken their cue from standup rather than Chekhov. Reading Allen’s pieces is like listening to the same gorgeous Chopin mazurka over and over while flipping through a Life magazine from October 1988. In other words, plot summary doesn’t tell you much, but here goes: “River of Toys” is a man’s meditation on the riverside shack he once inhabited, as it comes to stand for a period of youthful and poignant innocence; a small-college rhetoric instructor in “Night of the Red Palm” contemplates his lot as he tries to talk a student through her faulty essay on her brother’s death; “Hungry Hungry Hippos” is a dreamy meditation on post-college pop culture indulgence that nevertheless smacks nicely of nostalgia and lyricism; a man who goes to have a cyst removed from his testicles (“A Lover’s Guide to Hospitals”) goes into a reverie about everything he thought of hospitals as a boy; “In a City with Dogs” is a memory of days and nights in a tedious but indelible New York City; the disposal of a man’s remains (“Ashes North”) is cause for his sons, finally, to consider what it means to be men in late-’80s America; and “Singing Pumpkins” is another reverie triggered by a grandmother’s accident with cigarette lighters, leading to memories of an amusement park adjacent to CIA headquarters.
Pleasant streams-of-a-consciousness now a generation old.