As Gorman’s title aptly indicates, the 11 stories (1996–2000) collected here often feature children pressed into service in key roles. “Eye of the Beholder” asks who slashed a teenager’s impossibly beautiful face; “The Way It Used to Be” follows an outraged high-school kid’s rage over his sister’s interracial dating; “Angie” shows an unlikely surrogate mom determined to protect a nine-year-old child from his murderous father; the title story—which, like all Gorman’s best tales, compresses a lifetime of diminishing expectations into a few pages—squeezes helplessly nice Nicole Sanders between her cokehead mother and mom’s pushy pusher. Even when the principals are nominal adults, they’re still playing out their childhood desires, like two former kids’ continuing romantic rivalry in “That Day at Eagle’s Point” or an arsonist’s romantic attempt to avenge slights against the woman he loves in “All Those Condemned.” Most of the stories concern revenge of one sort or another, with would-be avengers like the killer of incorrigible offenders in “Judgment” or the hobo forced to defend himself against a grief-crazed killer in “Ghosts”—whatever their moral or legal justification—feeling a painful kinship with their targets. Yet Gorman uses this intimacy between crime and punishment not for the cheap thrills of the cops-and-killers genre, but to express the sadness of acting in a world that never lets you make a move without paying a price.
Not as varied or virtuoso as the stories in Moonchasers (1996), but still as heartfelt a collection as you’ll find this year.