Hull (The Sun God is a Ham, 2013, etc.) provides a series of short tales in multiple genres that tackle the comedy and tragedy of everyday life.
Each of the stories in this collection delivers a final twist—a zinger that sums up or alters the story in an unexpected way. The adherence to this structure leads to a somewhat uneven collection, juxtaposing surprising stories with predictable, leaden ones. “Three Sisters,” which details a Vermont hike interrupted by a curious black bear, and “Trapped,” about a rescue of trapped coal miners in a small Pennsylvania town, effectively build tension and develop their characters, and both have satisfying codas. Other, lighter stories feel limp by comparison, such as “The Zipper,” about a couple that find themselves lost on a Florida back road, and “Shamus the Leprechaun,” about a couple’s anticlimactic trip to Ireland. A few tales depict chance romantic encounters: “Green Dress” and “Saying Goodbye in Baggage Claim” both focus on surprising trysts between older men and younger women, while “Triage a Trois” reverses the formula with a tale of young, male musician falling for an older woman. “The Runner” is the most successful romance, featuring a divorced main character who finally builds up the courage to ask out a beautiful woman he met at the park. On the tragic side, “A Day at the Beach” sees a man contemplating suicide while on vacation, while “The Shoe” imagines what happened to a group of seven young men and women who disappeared during a freak winter storm. Hull’s prose often relies heavily on dialogue, although he skillfully narrates the interior lives of his characters at times. But the descriptions are generally unspectacular, and the twists often predictable, due to their lack of subtlety; the author might have tamped the foreshadowing down more, in order to better preserve the twists. The author’s longer stories are often his best, as the characters are able to breathe and the surprises can be teased out over a longer time. The shorter tales that make up most of the collection, however, don’t afford such luxuries.
An intriguing but inconsistent collection.