Ten remarkably accomplished stories explore the painful rips in life’s fabric.
Three of the strongest pieces appeared in The New Yorker. “Where We All Should Have Been” arrives at a subtle, complicated ending after a woman is called back to Kansas City by her recently widowed mother to help with her defiant 16-year-old sister, who’s getting in over her head with booze and men. In “The Good Fight,” Liza, whose husband is divorcing her for his 20-year-old Japanese student, sits in a Chicago bar with an old friend who’s in love with a 20-year-old himself; Liza discovers the line between words and touch (“It was true; his touch did ease her . . . . Maybe that was what terror would teach her, that the language of feeling was unspoken, a language of gesture, of limbs and organs”), and in “Everyone Is Wearing a Hat,” a couple’s eight-year-old son has been killed in a hit-and-run accident. The mother’s grief is expressed in poignant and poetic language: “That is what I had wanted to mourn—the loss of his touch, his weight, the small light bones that had grown and passed through my own body.” In the sketchier “Mothers Without Children,” women whose children have been stolen by their ex-husbands share horror stories. The power of sibling bonds lies at the heart of “After Rosa Parks,” about a Vietnam-era veteran who provides support for his sister—a single mother—and his kindergarten-age nephew; and at the heart of “Who Knows More Than You,” where an older sister is a phone confidante for Bette, who discovers that her five-year-old daughter has been beaten by her babysitter. (“ ‘Twenty-five years I spent on red alert before I relaxed,’ Bette said. ‘Always certain the worst could happen. And I get blindsided by a woman named Penny.’ ”).
A sensitive, haunting debut collection. Winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award. (Also see Feitell, below.)