A boy substitutes a cardboard cutout of himself at the dinner table, triggering an existential predicament; a cuckolded man seeks a particular kind of counseling; an encounter with a patron at a gay bar prompts a man to make an unusual music purchase; a lonely scientist creates companions in a Petri dish: The subjects of Haas’ short stories are as varied as the proverbial chocolates in the box. True to the saying, you never know what you’re going to get. His writing is engaging and quick, tending toward tongue-in-cheek and almost juvenile humor rather than high literary diction: “Barbie’s steady rocking motion worked wonders on Blaine’s member, turning it from a flaccid balloon into a magnificent dildo. But much to her surprise, Blaine wasn’t paying any attention to her—instead, his eyes were locked on Ken.” Still, even efficient writing should follow the “show, don’t tell” rule, which, more often than not, Haas disregards. A few of these pagelong stories might be better described as “flash fiction”; some, such as “Masks,” start to probe interesting territory, only to be cut off too soon. “The Snow Globe,” about an artist who crafts not only the classic Christmas scenes but also miniature versions of nuclear winter encased in glass, takes its time to flesh out characters and setting, helping make for a more gratifying resolution. “Cacophony of the Spheres,” the last and longest story in the collection, is a winding sci-fi tale that, ideally, would be expanded into a longer novella. Similarly, characters from stories such as “Buyer’s Remorse” (or, more accurately in this case, an object rather than a character—the protagonist—buys a replacement animatronic model of Marilyn Monroe) would be better served by more time and consideration. As a collection, though, the wit and creative power accumulate, making for an enjoyable beach read.
A handful of satisfying stories and a few too many that seem like writing exercises.