A collection of short stories examines marriage, fatherhood, and divorce from a variety of angles.
In this volume, Ackerman (Write Screenplays that Sell, 2014, etc.) explores familiar territory with fresh eyes. His stories follow characters approaching the end of a relationship or enduring its immediate aftermath. Relationships between parent and child, husband and wife, or even a family of rabbits—the author places them all under his microscope precisely at their moments of transformation. The collection strongly recalls the conflicted, masculine themes and anxieties of John Updike, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth, but mostly Updike. Ackerman shares Charles Bukowski’s love of the racetrack (the setting for “Incidental Contact” and “The Dancer Horse”), but not his passion for heavy boozing and prostitution. At times, there are dashes of Haruki Murakami’s surrealism, as in the title story or the opener, “Trim,” in which a woman starts to appear regularly at the protagonist’s house and give him haircuts. In every story, the author walks a thin line between sentimentalism and emotional revelation; the collection slips into both sides equally. “The Dancer Horse,” in which a man goes home with a woman he met at a horse race only to change his mind, takes itself too seriously and fails to feel authentic. “General Doolittle's Raid Over Tokyo” would be an exquisite tale of a marriage if it weren’t wedded to a melodramatic incest plot (incest, oddly, is a fairly common theme in the book). But when Ackerman is at his best, as in “Roof Garden” or “Leash,” he captures an elusive sensation of loss to marvelous effect. The former story follows a man spending the day with his daughter before he tells her about his decision to leave his wife; it would fit nicely in an Updike collection. The latter is a much-welcome deviation from the other tales. “Leash” focuses on a woman who must care for her estranged daughter’s dog after she dies in a car accident. It’s an impressive piece effusing genuine empathy, and it proves Ackerman is capable of more than the male-centered stories he writes so comfortably.
Engaging tales that should please fans of 20th-century American male authors.