These well-observed short stories describe sometimes-uneasy, sometimes-hopeful reconciliations with fortune.
Most of the 24 short stories in this collection previously appeared in literary journals; some have been altered slightly for this publication. In the title story—which captures a mood underlying many in the collection—an unnamed couple’s road to marriage begins with adopting a pug and proceeds from there like some blandly idyllic TV montage: they walk the dog, name him Prince, and enjoy his excited jumping up and down; they get corporate jobs, plan a small wedding, and have the ceremony in a park gazebo. When disaster upends them, Prince has a new home, “but he would never jump up and down. Instead, he would…spend his every night at the door, waiting, unable to believe in fate.” Named or unnamed, male or female, young or old, the characters in these stories struggle more or less successfully to believe in their fates. Sometimes, as in “The Driver,” rhythms of marriage and friendship ease the process. Maggie accompanies her second husband, Frank—20 years her senior—to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where he fails a vision test. Afterward, they bicker on a safe topic—“I’ll be damned if I’m going to Bob Evans”—until “the discomfort of Frank’s new reality dissolved.” The car’s engine, like their marriage, settles, after an initial kick, “into a comfortable hum.” The stories are arranged well to bring similar themes together: parents, children, and siblings; addicts, criminals, and twelve-steppers; workplaces; disasters, natural and otherwise. In many passages, Knox (Don’t Tease the Elephants, 2014, etc.) displays a keen pithiness: the pug’s “bunched face,” an old man’s insight about the ruthlessness shared by CEOs and addicts: “You got the really out and out and the really up and up, and they’re both the same kind of fucked up. That’s why they hate each other so much.”
Complex, assured stories that describe the complications of love and need with perfect pitch.