Twelve elegant but underpowered stories from Hemingway/PEN Award–winner Silber (In the City, 1987, etc.), charting the lives of those who, after misspent youth, settle down for the duration and ponder the changes.
The concept is an intriguing one: What happens to people who live and love dangerously? Do they ever change, or do they continue their wild ways? Silber's people have changed, mostly for the conventional better, but, like exiles, they often look back to that other territory that was once their life. “Lake Natsink,” which first appeared in The New Yorker, shows a woman named Patty, who works at a substance abuse clinic in Manhattan, recalling the years she associated with drug dealers as she prepares to leave the city with her lesbian lover and their adopted mixed-race child for a new life upstate. The reality of their life in the country is detailed in a linked story, “Ordinary”: Patty encounters prejudice but understands that she can't go back, can't even quite remember the city now. Other notable tales describe an artist who marries a much older Englishman in order to get him a green card, then, 20 years later, finds it difficult to leave him (“First Marriage”); a woman, now married and working with innercity children, who is reminded of her time with a rock band when she stays with an old friend in Italy whose teenage son is having problems (“Ragazzi”); the middleaged manager of a video store whose own irresponsible past comes to mind when her pretty clerk takes up with an obviously bad boy (“Comforts”); and, in the most harrowing piece here, a woman who looks back to the night her disturbed stepsister was raped and murdered (“Without Ellie”).
Finely wrought tales, but the characters, no matter how varied, seem clichéd and their pasts contrived.