Busted men, usually from busted homes, populate this well-turned collection from the veteran Delaney (Follow the Sun, 2018, etc.).
The novella House of Sully is a crystalline portrait of a dysfunctional family: Its narrator recalls being a teenager in 1968 as the year’s political turmoil thrums under a story about a closed-off father, a mother nabbed by police for visiting open houses to raid sellers’ medicine cabinets, and growing anxiety about an integrating Boston neighborhood. (A Mephistophelean figure keeps encouraging the white family to sell as more black families move in.) The trajectory there, and throughout the book, is built on slow decline, not big symphonic conflicts, which makes Delaney’s storytelling engrossing and emotionally nuanced. He can deliver that effect when the stakes are higher. In “David,” a bullied teen morphs into a school shooter; the opening “Clean” tracks the long aftereffects of a murder; and in “Medicine,” a man reckons with guilt over his girlfriend’s granddaughter getting badly injured on his watch. That last story is part of a cycle narrated by a lifelong drifter, and Delaney neatly balances a sense of rootlessness and failure with a respectable nobility. (The source line for the book’s title summarizes the feeling: “Living like you’re comfortable with what life deals you, that’s the big impossible sometimes.”) The conceits of some stories can be fussy: ”My Name Is Percy Atkins” pits the protagonist’s life in a retirement home against his stint during World War I, and the narrator of “Street View” Googles his way through dour childhood memories. And humor is in short supply excepting the lit-world satire of “Writer Party.” But Delaney’s sensitivity and command are steady throughout.
Not path-breaking but a sturdy and careful set of portraits of men struggling not to be swallowed up by their failures or upbringings.