Time is the essence of this spare, subtle short story collection.
Two middle-aged women, friends from high school who haven’t seen each other for years, ride the train together from central London to the end of the line to recover a lost pair of reading glasses and, along with them, their old, easy friendship and spontaneous sense of adventure. A long-married couple, their relationship buffeted by bitterness and betrayal, find themselves the youngest travelers on a package tour to see Wagner’s “Ring” cycle in Berlin and, as the shared experience crumbles the emotional wall between them built by entrenched grudges and fears, find their way back to each other as old age approaches. A prosperous lawyer in London’s financial district—on his second marriage, to a woman around the age of the daughters from his first marriage—takes the teenage son of an acquaintance to lunch to persuade him that law would be a wise course of study, yet, as the lawyer reflects back on the course of his own life, his choices, and their consequences, its wisdom seems less clear. The nine stories in Simpson's (In-Flight Entertainment, 2012, etc.) sharply written collection carry titles that reflect a sense of place (“Moscow,” “Arizona,” “Berlin,” etc.). But, perhaps to a greater degree, the stories concern time—the effects of its passage, the disappointments it brings, the opportunities for growth it offers. Too, they grapple with issues of gender—especially incisively in the sly, clever “Erewhon”—and touch on the topics of art, literature, and economic and social inequality. And although Simpson’s stories are timely and rooted in their British milieu—strongly evoking the personal and cultural struggles of today’s middle class—they are also far-reaching and timeless, addressing matters of loyalty and mortality that are universal and deeply human.
Simpson’s stories pack a quiet emotional power that extends beyond their pages.