Eleven downbeat stories, five published previously, from newcomer Kane: blues variations that form an insistent but eloquent study of faces of quiet desperation.
There are the drinkers: Sarah, first, in “Evidence of Old Repairs,” whose efforts to connect with her teenaged daughter while on a family holiday in London are complicated by the memories both have of Sarah’s rum-and-Coke afternoons at home; and then Shelley, in “Refuge,” an aging associate in a prominent Washington law firm, who attends the firm’s weekend retreat days after having sent her teenager away to live with his dad, no longer able to cope with him, and who binges her way through the pain. And there are the seekers: The mathematician in “The Arnold Proof,” at 46 close to the twilight of his career, close to cracking the proof of the notorious Riemann Hypothesis, but also closer than ever to cracking up when he has an epiphany in an interstate rest area; and the publicist in “How to Become a Publicist,” a midwestern girl lured by New York publishing, who quickly tires of the inanity of it all and applies to grad school. And then there are those for whom objects have assumed unnatural significance: Lena in “Ideas of Home, but Not the Thing Itself,” a newlywed who covets the furnishings of the Georgetown house she and her young husband are sitting; and the young boy in “First Sale,” faced with his mother’s determination to get rid of stuff after his father leaves them, but who cannot bear to part with a bottle of Maryland lake water he had scooped up at the end of a family vacation.
These characters, along with others equally on edge, give voice to the ceaseless yearnings that—so Kane’s volume suggests—preoccupy us almost from the cradle to the grave. Lovers of lighthearted fiction, fear to tread here.