Bad reality-TV concepts and self-help jargon dog the protagonists of Crane’s third collection (All This Heavenly Glory, 2005, etc.).
These stories resemble blog rants—apologias expressed in straggly sentences replete with breezy pop-culture patois. The writing echoes the diction and deadpan socioeconomic commentary of George Saunders and Julie Hecht, with little of the subtlety. Reality television and quirky religions figure heavily in the characters’ worldviews. A woman practices revisionism through exclamation points (“My Life is Awesome! And Great!”). “Betty the Zombie” joins a Lifetime show about dysfunctional women attempting to “reignite” their lives. “Banana Love” and its companion piece, “Notes for a Story about People with Weird Phobias,” take “avoidance issues” to absurd heights, as when a character imagines doing time for bludgeoning an annoyingly fashionable and thin girl. In “Clearview,” the eponymous town and its occupants achieve redemption through Whole Foods and grande lattes. Celebrity worship is a predictable motif: “The Glistening Head of Ricky Ricardo Begs Further Experimentation” explains how to harvest mini-celebrities; in “Emmanuel,” a longed-for child morphs into Ethan Hawke (“post-Uma/Before Sunset”). “Sally (Featuring: Lollipop the Rainbow Unicorn)” likes herself, which renders her close to bludgeonably annoying. “What Happens When the Mipods Leave their Milieu” is most Saunders-esque in its tale of two innocents, members of a benign cult martyred for their lack of irony. “Donovan’s Closet,” about salvation at Barney’s, and the title story, about a happiness art installation, are, in the words of that story’s narrator, “probably the part where most people would say Whaaaaa?” The most effective stories drop the blasé veneer. “What Our Week Was Like” manages a profound statement about loss of youth. “Varieties of Loudness in Chicago” nostalgically evokes a run-down but rapidly gentrifying urban neighborhood. “Promise” is a reckless guarantee of perfect parenting.
Too often exalts glibness over insight.