Twelve taut, driven stories (eight published previously), in a first collection from San Francisco writer Bjorneby, focus largely on girls and women as they experience defining moments and draw on whatever resources they can to sustain them.
The title piece pits a 40-year-old painter against despair at the loss of her entire family, including her 8-year-old son. Leaving her fate to an approaching hurricane, she waits in her beachfront house until she glimpses someone else on the beach whose despair is as great as her own. Other stories make use of the author’s Air Force upbringing. In “War Games,” a teenager and her mother live in base housing in Florida while waiting for the girl’s pilot father to finish his tour in Vietnam; the girl passes after-school hours throwing a football with a friend, her life suspended, until a civilian schoolmate begins to teach them about growing up. The girl—Max—appears again in “Christmas Bombings, 1972,” this time with her whole family in Berlin and desperate to grow up. She meets a gentle Alabama airman who protects her from the anti-American feelings rampant in the city and from herself; but he’s is shipped home before her feelings for him have a chance to mature. Other tales feature adolescent boys, like Jimmy in “The Goat,” whose desire to be one of the gang puts him squarely in the middle between the clique’s bigoted leader and a poor classmate recently arrived from a war-torn part of the world. Women in crisis predominate, however, and the stories end in San Francisco when tough, brittle Nicky (in “Mimosa”), softened by love and pregnancy and far from her days of suicidal rage, has to confront old demons after her lover is arrested in a drug bust.
An impressive debut, full of crisp images, sparks and heat, but also essential human dignity—all helping keep the tendency to finish upbeat from seeming relentless.