The experiences of ordinary people making their claims to be understood and respected are precisely depicted in this fifth collection from the increasingly accomplished Thompson (Throw Like a Girl, 2007, etc.).
The characters in these dozen stories are people we all know, or can easily imagine. When a lonely woman accepts a married friend’s Thanksgiving invitation, she becomes enmeshed in a domestic hornet’s nest (“Wilderness”). An office worker (“Mr. Rat”), who thinks he’s God’s gift to the female colleague with a crush on him, first sees himself as a newly compassionate and sensitive person, then realizes with both chagrin and relief that he is “a genius at self-preservation.” Wives betrayed by dishonest or indifferent spouses, husbands and fathers smothered by family responsibilities, an accident victim who learns he isn’t the center of the universe, a bereaved young woman initially comforted and eventually terrorized by her new psychic “friend” (in the eerie title story)—all first swim into our ken as odd, unlikely specimens, but then Thompson, who wields illuminating quotidian details and stunningly apt clichés with lethal skill, demonstrates how closely their desires and disappointments parallel and echo our own. Three stories are especially impressive. A man enfeebled and speechless following a stroke yearns for a means of “Escape” from his embittered, condescending wife, who unintentionally (and ironically) provides it. In “Her Untold Story,” a continuation of “Wilderness,” a divorced suburban mom seeks a new life, taking up jogging, then risking a blind date and meeting a “stranger” who’s as much a part of her rejected past as her infuriating ex. In the lovely “Treehouse,” a disillusioned dad finds in the title project a refuge from a world “grown too large…too cluttered with bewilderment and pain. Now he had made it small enough to fit inside himself.”
Wonderful work from a contemporary master of scrupulous observation, plain statement and unvarnished common sense.