A dozen poems and short stories about people in transit and the interpersonal dramas that emerge in the course of travel.
Webb (A Short Joy for Alma Hedman, 2018) offers a collection of cursory tales and vignettes, set between the 1950s and 1970s. In each of these stories, characters are on the move from one place to another. There’s a woman in “Getting to Verdun” who accompanies her father and husband to Holland, where her dad had fought in World War I. In “The Convention,” Sally joins her husband, Harold, at a business convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where she witnesses the trivialities of business dinners and happy hours. “On a Bench in the Amtrak Train Station” centers on the thoughts of a woman as she closely observes a mother and child: “She is standing still and itching to hold that baby again!” Stories like this one, as well as “The Guide and the Boy”—set during a guided tour of the Teotihuacán area in Mexico—and poems such as “Really, Isn’t it Strange” read more like vignettes, with their close attention to detail and lack of resolution. Overall, Webb writes in a crisp, casual style that emphasizes mundane details and interactions. In “The Convention,” for example, she describes a dinner attentively: “Harold fiddled with his fork. / Janet drank her water. / I drank my water. / Ed shook out his napkin.” Familial themes also loom large, with tales featuring married couples, father-daughter relationships, and thoughts of childbearing. “Norway,” one of the collection’s most successful stories, describes the disorienting experience of traveling and encountering new languages: The protagonist thinks in response to a Norwegian man’s attentive questioning over a business dinner, “Was this a list of prepositions?” Some readers may be frustrated by the lack of narrative development; indeed, Webb’s description of a Tupperware demonstration in “The Convention” could apply to the collection as a whole: “No final outcome. No outburst.” Still, readers will find plenty of detail and emotional complexity here.
Descriptive, understated stories of characters in flux.