Cohen (The Family on Beartown Road, 2003) showcases love in the Internet Age.
The 15 stories vary in tone and degree of realism, but all display faith in the “glowing and nuclear power in the word.” It may impact the characters directly, as when discovery of the name for his condition finally cures the protagonist of “Limerence” of his obsessive brooding over a woman who stops answering his texts after four dates and two bouts of sex. Or the power may be manifested in the way characters use words to misrepresent themselves online; in “People Who Live Far, Far Away,” the Icelandic yak farmer is actually a paralyzed vet in Duluth, the movie actress in fact cares full-time for her sister with Down syndrome. Or the author may just decide to flat-out dazzle you with words, as in the flashy opening of “Animal Dancing”: “It was the time of year when the helicopter seeds twirled down on the sidewalks like girls showing off at a dance, when the bee balm bushes wore their best purple frocks and the whole world seemed…tricked out for love.” Love may be fleeting, but a well-turned phrase is forever in Cohen’s clever but occasionally shallow collection. It’s not exactly news that people don’t always look like the photos they post online (“Man on a Boat”) or that it’s a bad idea to drunkenly hook up with an ex-boyfriend who tells you he’s doing drugs with a couple of other guys (“Love Quiz”), and the author is sometimes too eager to show off her technique. Nonetheless, the subject of looking for love online is still fresh enough, and Cohen is talented enough, to imbue the best stories—“Dog People,” “The Man Who Made Whirlygigs,” “The Opposite of Love”—with a sharp, distinctive quality as they show people tentatively using new tools in the age-old search for connection.
Uneven but intriguing work from a writer who should resist her penchant for narrative game-playing.