Fourteen stories set in Pittsburgh describe the quiet griefs of everyday life: a second collection from McCafferty (Director of the World, 1992; One Heart, 1999).
McCafferty’s prose is better as portraiture than storytelling, and most of these tales are as much vignette as narrative. The beaten-down father of “Light of Lucy,” for example, has a brief flight of fancy (involving Lucille Ball) while waiting in a parking lot for his daughter, but his story is little more than a sketch of a desperate man (divorced, depressed, unemployed) short on answers. Similarly, the narrator of “Brother to Brother” offers an interior monologue on the difficulty of life, addressed to a beloved elder brother who may, in fact, be already dead. The unhappy young couple who bicker pointlessly in “You Could Never Love the Clown I Love” are brought up short by an encounter with the older couple next door, a circus clown and his wife, who complain about the noise of their endless arguing, while the young couple of “So Long Marianne” seem perfectly happy and in love until the girl sees a child in her store and is thereby (possibly) reminded of some misfortune in her past. “Stadium Hearts” depicts the loneliness of an elderly philosophy professor who breaks into a baseball stadium to recall his dead wife and son and the ballgames he refused to take them to, there encountering the widow of a ballplayer who has also broken in to recall the past. “Dear Mr. Springsteen” is a fan letter to the Boss from a middle-aged Pittsburgh lady who tries to explain what an effect Springsteen’s Rising album had on her and an inner-city boy she played it to, while the title story is a thank-you note from a troubled woman with an unhappy past to an old friend who helped her through a bad patch many years ago.
Sharply observed but limited in scope: more by the way of background, or some other dramatic depth, could make such dim and shadowy characters worth caring for.