A self-proclaimed â€œstudent of the human condition” reflects in writer’s workshop-style prose on the effects of breakups, haplessness and sorrow.
Roberts’ primarily gloomy collection opens with story â€œRelativity,” whose central theme of relationship discordance resonates throughout the book. Several stories integrate the family framework into the narrative. The author poignantly juxtaposes the birth of a baby girl with a dying old man and his family in â€œThe Red and the Black”; the male narrator in â€œA Question of Perspective” correlates his teenage son’s laziness with the moral collapse of his neighborhood; a young Republican’s tragic family life unceremoniously unravels in â€œMost Likely to Succeed”; and a laid-off employee and his wife enjoy crisp hindsight in â€œValentine’s Day 2005.” Young children appear in several tales that, while light on plot, still shine with deft characterization and emotion. A young boy’s gleeful mischief in â€œTadpoles” is trumped by a devastating math grade while a girl’s dying kitten reinvigorates her divorced father’s helplessness in the melancholy â€œCosette.” However, several of these correlated yarns incorporate prose that lapses into awkward territory: â€œWhen a striking scene catches your eye, your mind always paints it in colors pulled from a pallet [sic] based in its own reality.” An alternating point of view is jarring in both â€œThe Triptych,” an aimless tale of a man who flees after a fight with his wife, and â€œMost Likely to Succeed,” about a young Republican’s fall from grace. The inclusion of an essay Roberts wrote for his alma mater newsletter is simply inexplicable. Written during his time at the University of Iowa, Roberts’collection is ultimately uneven, though the author admits to having included both the â€œimmature as well as the overcooked” works into the project. However, Roberts demonstrates a talent for tapping into the fault lines of human landscapes and the brittleness of relationships that are felled with a single word.
A patchy and intermittently sharp-eyed collection.