From Green (Wave Upon Wave, 2009), a collection of short stories about growing older and making life choices in middle age.
Alex Harris is having a midlife crisis. He’s overweight; his job in the construction industry stresses him out; and his wife left him for another woman and has custody of their daughter. Now, Alex can’t find the phone number of a woman whom he met the previous week. His search for it takes him back to his old home, where his ex-wife and daughter still live. Before he knows it, he’s out on the street having a cardiac event. So ends the titular story, but Alex features in four more linked tales, which alternate with four others, unrelated to the central narrative. This separation is well-judged, as readers will likely struggle with spending time with Alex for too long. Green writes Alex’s stories in the first person and is adept at building a sense of character and place. His protagonist, however, is thoroughly unlikable—abrasive, bigoted, selfish, and destructively bullheaded. Granted, his story arc is one of redemption; for all the ways that Alex messes up his relationships, he does grow as a person. Even so, he very rarely engenders sympathy. Of the remaining four tales, the two written in the third person are fairly inconsequential: “Hero of Main Street,” a vignette about the unlikely hero of a bank robbery; and “The Caregiver,” in which all is not as it seems in a nursing home. The remaining two show what Green is capable of with a less-objectionable protagonist: “Guardians of Summar’s Point,” in which a threadbare lawyer finds his sense of purpose during a property dispute; and “The Story Quilt,” about a Baltimore “ad man” dogged by supernatural influence. Green has some off-putting quirks, such as shifting midparagraph between past and present tense and putting ordinary words in quotation marks (“Lucia comes out with a mound of tomato ‘red’ objects”), as if their legitimacy were in question. However, he undoubtedly has a knack for slow-building, descriptive narrative. “Guardians,” in particular, is reminiscent of Bill Pronzini’s work, which by itself is enough to suggest promise.
An engaging and immersive, if not always pleasant, set of tales.