In his debut short story collection, Cross realistically documents fears, loss and the complexities of relationships by glimpsing into a dozen different lives.
The 12 stories feature a cast of varied characters with one commonality: They’re all troubled by events from their past. Marty, a sixth-grade boy, resorts to violence after the death of his father; Lenny’s bad luck comes to define him; and Ronny finds a surprising ally in the son of his high school bully from years ago. Cross’ stories meditate on what it means to experience pain, and his characters demonstrate that there are many different ways of coping. The captivating first line of each story hints at the tension that follows, especially in “Hunters,” which begins: “The winter I turned twenty-seven, I followed a woman who said she might love me to a small town in Northwest Pennsylvania, a go-between place that provided me with little comfort, except maybe to say that its prospects seemed worse than my own.” The endings are usually just as enticing; mirroring reality, they aren’t clean, definitive conclusions but rather a place for readers to leave the character, confident he or she is in good hands, and move on to the next. Cross’ descriptions allow readers to conjure a clear image of each character, as evidenced by the introduction of Lenny, who was blind in his left eye, “the blackness of his pupil leaking into his iris like spilled ink.” Thematic similarities throughout the collection make it difficult for one story to stand out among the rest, but it also amounts to a pleasing consistency. It’s clear that Cross is capable of full-length fiction, which would be a welcome next step for such a talent.
Darkly comical; readers will be ready for more.