The loneliness and awkwardness of single parenting—for the adolescent child and the parent—figure prominently in Spatz’s earnest, understated collection of ten stories (all previously published), and continue the themes of his first novel, No One But Us (1995). Among several tales following this thread is “Lisa Picking Cockles,” about an artist and his teenaged son who lead separate lives: the former pursues his art single-mindedly, leaving the boy to discover love on his own when a young woman comes to interview his dad and takes an interest in him. In “Walking in My Sleep,” the parent-child combination is mother-son, with the son a witness to his mom’s budding relationship with his swimming coach, watching uneasily as her hopes rise—and then are dashed when the coach fails to show up for the summer vacation he’d proposed. The title story takes a different tack, involving a woman married but estranged who makes an unusual request of the man painting the doors of her house, where she lives with her brain-damaged twin sister: that she and he have nightly, intimate physical contact, but no sex. “Plenty of Pools in Texas” has fewer sexual complications but ends no more optimistically, as another estranged wife starts an affair with a guy recovering from having his bicycle run off the road, then decides to get back with her husband.
Romances that fizzle and fray, marriages gone bust, and teenagers trying to make sense of love—such are the all-too-human delights of this downbeat debut collection (winner of Mid-List’s First Series Award for Short Fiction).