Nine moody stories, some loosely interconnected, about families in small towns on the Long Island shore.
In “The Playground,” three adult siblings—a divorced woman and her two brothers—share their family’s house and become fascinated with the playmate of the sister’s children, an adult woman who doesn’t speak but arrives each day to play with the children on the beach and eventually paints strange, lonely portraits of her young friends. Francis takes a huge risk—and succeeds—in “The Boulders,” a quietly moving story about the friendship that springs up between the mother of a serial killer who still mourns and seeks to understand her son after his execution, and the brother of one of her son’s victims, who comes to her seeking understanding of his own. Another standout is the title piece, about a family that spends a weekend with the man they’ve adopted as one of their own. Alan, who is dying, was once an opera singer but gave up his career to be near his lover Steve, Steve’s wife Elsa, and the children they all somehow raised as their own. As the three sort out their lifelong relationships with one another, Steve may speak for all when he reflects: “ . . . it’s more than love, more powerful—call it love, I don’t know what it is. It’s a curse, a fortunate curse.” Several stories show how acts of cruelty can carry through generations: The estranged brother of the town’s mayor comes back to seek revenge by proxy in “The Winter Guest”; an adult man seeks atonement for his brother’s drowning death two decades after the accident (“The Battered Shore”); and, in “Watching Marie,” a young scholar attempts to woo the town beauty, whom his uncle abandoned years before.
Uneven, but the best are small triumphs, finding ordinary warmth and complexity in the most challenging of circumstances.