Twelve stories of invitations and departures and life changes, often unexpected or unwanted.
Milliken’s debut gets off to a bang with “A Matter of Time,” in which the wife of a struggling actor throws a rather desperate dinner party for her husband’s much more successful friend, who has already failed to show up for two prior invitations, in the ever dwindling hope that he will help his old buddy get an audition. Almost everything that could go wrong does—the front door falls off its hinges, the play date they’ve arranged for their kindergartener, Caroline, is cancelled; and, unbelievably enough, this time the guest of honor shows up so early the hostess hasn’t even had a chance to put on her makeup. Half the stories in the collection fan out from this one, with Caroline appearing as a character in five of them. In a second excellent party story, “The Whole World,” we return to the dilapidated little house to celebrate Caroline’s 16th birthday, during which she receives a used, teal-green Honda as a gift from her dad. In “Detour,” set four years later, she has driven across the country with a girlfriend who may or may not be her lover. Another character in this cycle is a hand model named Bill, a friend of Caroline’s dad; in “Parts of a Boat” we go with him to a claustrophobic dinner party at sea. The interesting and unexpected connections between the characters in the linked stories create a strong sense of plot and a distinct fictional world; on the downside, it makes the stories that aren’t part of the group feel a little distracting.
She’s got what it takes and she knows how to use it.