A moving debut collection of stories about the underside of ordinary relationships.
In this collection, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, and mothers and daughters yearn to stretch beyond their family units. Throughout, Orbach focuses on strained relationships and transgressions—the threatening steps that people take across unspoken boundaries. The author has a flair for character, and even her shortest stories pulsate with vibrant people who are smart enough to know where their actions might lead. In “Crossing Over,” Martha and Jerry, both divorced from others, take their first road trip as a new couple. They drive in uneasy silence until Martha presses Jerry about his divorce-court proceedings and stirs up once-settled emotions: “Suddenly she imagines them seated backward in the speeding car, their faces not toward the road ahead but turned helplessly toward the ruined landscape behind them.” In “Snow Falling on Upstate New York,” Alec reflects on his childhood, his three siblings, his asthmatic, alcoholic mother, and his father, “trudging doggedly” to maintain a semblance of normalcy. A subsequent story recalls the same family from a different point of view: Alec’s younger sister, Miranda, finds refuge from her mother’s alcoholism in the colorful kitchen and easy conversation of her friend’s family. Although she should seek comfort from her classmate, she’s instead drawn to her classmate’s mother—and their summer relationship shapes Miranda’s life. Miranda’s self-awareness and discerning morality—typical of Orbach’s characters—bring depth to the relatively short story. Indeed, many characters seem too large for their stories—they nudge against their stories’ ends, threatening yet another boundary. Miranda’s tale, for example, like many in this fine collection, stops too quickly, too neatly, for the brilliance of her personality: “That’s all I want to say about that summer or any other.”
A skillful collection of stories featuring beguiling plots and characters.