Psychologically acute, often very funny and only occasionally glib, these stories show great promise, though a few of the dozen in this debut collection are almost as slight as the best are compelling.
Straub writes predominantly from the perspective of a youngish woman in New York (where she lives and works as a bookseller) and often in the first person, though these narratives seem to transcend the thinly disguised memoir of so much fledgling fiction. Certain motifs seem signature. Many of the stories have a coming-of-age quality to them, though the “girls” who are experiencing these rites of passage might be well into their 20s or 30s, and some are even mothers. Like Franny, the unhappily married (or at least unfulfilled, for happiness may be beyond the emotional range of so many of Straub’s characters) protagonist of three of these stories: “She still thought she was a cow with her leftover baby weight and yet insisted on wearing those stupid pigtails all young mothers seem to think it’s their right to wear, as if they were all waiting, gasping, praying for someone to say, Oh, you! You can’t be the mother of this child! You couldn’t possibly be old enough!” In addition to arrested development, or a post-adolescence that extends into what was once considered middle age, a surprising number of these stories find two (or more) characters on vacation, or in a state of dislocation, a place where either the relationship changes or they (or at least one of them) discovers what has been wrong all along. They must, as Franny discovers in the pre-marriage “Pearls,” where her friendship with her very different roommate briefly turns romantic. In the first-person opening story, “Some People Must Really Fall in Love,” a young teacher in the grip of what she considers an inappropriate infatuation with a student tells her freshman class that “stories didn’t have to have morals at the end.” And many of these stories are left comparatively open-ended, rich in interpretive possibility.
A fresh voice from a writer who deserves discovery.