Twenty stories, some mere fragments, describe with clinical detachment the gnawing disappointments and blighted realities of most loves.
Award-winning Scottish writer Galloway (Foreign Parts, 1994, etc.) is a cheerless chronicler of those whose lives, even without heartbreak, are lived on the margins, with dreary and ill-paid jobs. The title story’s narrator is a prostitute whose pimp makes her feel special because he says her “kisses are what I’m for.” In “Valentine,” a young woman, despite flowers, a gift, and dinner, finds herself, at the end of the day, with her “heart bursting with wanting to give more” in order to connect somehow with her unimaginative boyfriend. In “Proposal,” a young woman is afraid of losing her independence (“ I want you to stop making decisions for me”) if she agrees to marry her boyfriend. As the two drive to his parents’ house and have lunch with them, he irritates her further by revealing more decisions he’s made without consulting her. Other perils of love are detailed in “In Test,” about an impoverished middle-aged artist, in London to visit galleries, who thinks about her life and lover as she tries to pluck up courage to buy a pregnancy-testing kit. She concludes that she’ll survive whatever the outcome: “People did. They had the capacity to survive.” In “Sonata Form,” a famous and self-absorbed musician’s wife is tired of dealing with her husband’s fans and the demands of his career but realizes, after a concert, how much she loves and admires him. And in “Bisex,” a young lesbian fights her desire to telephone the bisexual woman she loves, as she imagines what the woman is doing with men . . . “I wonder and try not to think, thinking anyway.”
Accomplished, yet emotionally arid writing: cold comfort for those who believe love conquers all.