The prolific, protean Scott’s latest is a collection of ten thematically linked stories that comprise an episodic history of love in the previous century.
The author’s pictorial imagination and gift for narrative economy are vividly displayed in the opening story, “Heaven and Hell,” which offers glimpses into the hearts and minds of members of a 1919 wedding: the demonstrably happy couple, the bride’s ne’er-do-well father, the benevolent uncle who assumes the latter’s responsibilities—even a burly retriever that chases a stick, endangering the life of the boy who throws it. It’s a precisely exfoliating anatomy of the pleasures—and perils—of marital love. The subsequent story, “Stumble,” is an examination of the wasted life of an “easy” girl who seeks happiness in promiscuous sex, and “Worry” looks at maternal love through the story of a warmhearted matron whose children seek risks that will free them from her smothering protectiveness. In “Freeze-Out,” meanwhile, “love at first sight” exposes a self-pitying retiree to the wiles of a family of amoral cardsharps. In the collection’s finest story, “Across from the Shannonso,” a bored apartment dweller can neither explain nor understand her eagerness “to sacrifice her father . . . for the sake of a hoodlum boy” whom her imagination has transformed from an arsonist’s accomplice into a brooding romantic soul. Scott concludes with two ambitious, only partially successful, experiments: a mordant novella, “Or Else,” which imagines four contrasting consequences for its unloved protagonist’s childhood traumas; and a gathering of several brief incidents, “The Lucite Cane,” in which love propels its variously connected characters into fateful chance meetings. Throughout, the author’s abilities to concoct arresting premises instill a quirky sense of menace and enrich her narratives with metaphoric and allegorical implication that keeps the reader riveted to the page.
One of America’s most underrated, important writers, Scott gets better with every book. A must-read.