The third book and second story collection from Kane (The Report, 2010, etc.) offers 12 lucid, elegant and immersive stories about interpersonal strains and tensions among lovers, neighbors, children and their parents, and so on.
In "Lucky Boy," a young New Yorker's relationship with his dry cleaner veers from the comforts of mere commerce, and he finds himself cast in the role of catch-playing father figure—until and unless his fiancee, who's colder and more city-savvy, steps in to end it, an intervention he seems both to desire and to dread. In "American Lawn," a Croatian refugee rents garden space in a city backyard during a drought—and exposes a rift between lonely neighbors, devoted to their rivalrous ideas about what neighborliness is and should be, who compete in ever more childish and embarrassing ways for his attention. In the book's most poignant story, "Next in Line," a grieving mother haunts the drug store where an acerbic older woman seems simultaneously to chide her for bad parenting and to predict—with heart-rending accuracy—her toddler's imminent death. "The Essentials of Acceleration" features a 40-year-old woman who never achieved escape velocity. She lives in her hometown, stuck in a way she knows all too well but can't quite acknowledge, alongside her father, a retired professor who stays active and popular despite his gathering infirmities. She's haunted less by the tragedy of her mother's accidental death than by resentment of her father for having, unforgivably, soldiered on afterward. Several of the stories feature inward, dour, private people who simultaneously envy and scorn those who seem to have an easier time of it: the gift of gab, the sunny disposition, the ability to put heartbreak and recrimination behind them, the yen to act rather than merely longing silently and crabbily from the sidelines. The stories are quiet—Kane has little interest in stylistic pyrotechnics, flashy plots or formal play—but they are subtle, persuasive and psychologically complex.
Another worthy book from a fine writer.