Grimly humorous urban morality tales of men behaving badly and marriages on the rocks.
In a collection of 11 previously published short stories, six of which appeared in the New Yorker, Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, 2014, etc.) continues the trick of fitting a bleak moral vision into what feels like the setup for a comedy. In the title story, a nasty husband who thinks he knows exactly how his boring evening will play out gets a big surprise from his dinner guests. Similar comeuppance is visited on the protagonist of “A Night Out,” whose attempts to hide his serial cheating from his wife are derailed permanently. Both stories unfold as if they were farces, yet in the end they are tragedies. Another pair of stories feature the inner monologues of deeply neurotic protagonists, Woody Allen–esque guys who overthink their ways to disaster, whether among successful film people at a chic Hollywood party (“The Pilot”) or with a laconic mover at a storage unit (“A Fair Price”). While most of Ferris’ marriages are heading for divorce, he predicts continued heartbreak for a fatherless boy in “Ghost Town Choir” and depicts the long-term effects of broken families in “The Step Child.” “On, astonishingly, six other occasions, when his parents met other people, and fell in love, and married, and ordered the instant integration of two families’ lives, their laundry, and their lore (and, to often disastrous effect, their DNA)—the Morgans, followed by the Dinardos and the Teahans, on his mother’s side; the Winklows, the Andersons, and that insufferable Lee clan, on his father’s—he had…[wanted] nothing more than to return to the bunk bed in his first room, where all the linens and the wall shadows had been under a single, steady proprietorship.”
Ferris has mastered a kind of fictional sucker punch, and he’ll get you every time.