THINGS TO DO IN BALTIMORE WHILE HAVING A HEART ATTACK by Isaac Green

THINGS TO DO IN BALTIMORE WHILE HAVING A HEART ATTACK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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.

Page count: 315pp
Publisher: Manuscript
Program: Kirkus Indie
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