After a second novel (Gallagher’s Travels, 1997), McGarry returns to her strength, the short story, with a knockout fourth collection of wonderfully honed, superbly quirky tales exploring the modern-day crises of relationship-weary men and women.
McGarry is equally comfortable in the voices of men and women, and it’s hard to find a weak link among these 13 stories, subdivided into two sections entitled “His” and “Hers.” The first, “Among the Philistines,” delineates the staccato movements of an arrogant, on-the-rise Latin scholar whose field trip to New York City—involving a quick bedding of his mistress, a sudden appearance by his handsomely pedigreed wife, and an explosive dinner among the tenured academic Olympiads—turns tragically hubristic. The following tale, “The Thin Man,” begins with the startling sentence “In one year I lost a hundred pounds” and recounts the strange, unsettling birthday of pampered, privileged 41-year-old Charles Francis LaSalle and the mysterious attraction he holds over “wounded creatures.” The longest in this section, “The Secret of His Sleep,” is also the story in which McGarry indulges her impish perverseness. A regular guy, George McCoy, living in a place called Plainfield, “wakes up” from a 40-year-sleep and must reacquaint himself with his listless wife, young genius son, and the consequences of a heretofore-blank existence. When she’s at her strongest, McGarry ’s prose is fresh, her plots unpredictable, and her dialogue shimmeringly wry—as in the pointed exchange between George and his dead father in an empty afternoon bar; at her weakest, she is oblique and abruptly elliptical, as at moments in the final piece, “The Last Time,” involving Gertrude Stein, Alice Toklas, and an unnamed live-in at their rue de Fleurus apartment. Many of the stories here appeared in small literary or academic publications. They deserve wider circulation.
Reading McGarry’s stories (Home at Last<\I>, 1994, etc.) is to be surprised and delighted.