Stellar collection combines a sharp eye for detail, subtle character development and virtuosic command of narrative voice.
A British native who now lives in upstate New York, Lasdun (Seven Lies, 2006, etc.) also writes poetry, novels and screenplays, but his fourth volume of stories suggests that his strength lies in the short form. The title piece is the shortest, less than two-and-a-half pages, and functions as the prose equivalent of haiku in its evocation of an affair, a death and a marriage that is all but dead. Yet that same title could apply to practically every one of these stories, which often detail a pivotal point at which a man (usually) comes to terms with his essential character and discovers something hurtful or troubling about himself. In “An Anxious Man” (most of the titles are far more generic than the stories themselves), an inheritance disrupts a family’s equilibrium, as the wife’s attempts to play the stock market during an economic downturn make the husband fearful of everything, even as he questions his judgment. “Was it possible to change?” asks the protagonist of “The Natural Order,” a faithful husband whose trip with an incorrigible womanizer leaves him both appalled and envious. In “Cleanness,” a widower’s marriage to a much younger woman forces his son to confront his own indelible impurities. “A Bourgeois Story” explores “the peculiar economy of…conscience,” as an unexpected reunion of college friends, one of whom has become a well-to-do lawyer while the other has turned increasingly radical, leaves the former as uncomfortable with his own life as he is with his one-time friend. Chance encounters and unlikely connections prove particularly revelatory throughout. The piece that is least like the others, “Annals of the Honorary Secretary,” provides a mysterious parable of art that concludes, “Like most lyric gifts, it was short-lived. On the other hand, the critical exegesis has only just begun.”
Merits comparison with the understated artistry of William Trevor or Graham Swift.