This collection of linked stories follows the lives of Alice Townley and Mike Gallagher, two people starved for affection from their affluent families, and the one decision that both haunts and shapes the rest of their lives.
Set mostly in Detroit, the collection progresses chronologically, beginning in 1974 with Alice, who is then 5 years old. Alice’s world is glitteringly wealthy, cold and tinged with a tragedy that begins to unfold in the first story, “The Great Gatsby Party.” Our introduction to Mike is more complicated and comes at a distance in “Use Everything in Your Arsenal,” in which Mike’s childhood neighbor, Johnny, tells us, “It wasn’t long before Mikey began to frighten me.” Mike and Alice form an intense and, at times, destructive relationship. United by loneliness and wealth, they make a decision that both come to regret deeply. Occasionally Alice or Mike appears only as a secondary character, as in “The Guest Room,” but each story affords further insight into their lives. While individually they are not always entirely successful, as a collection, the stories work together to add weight and meaning to the larger scope of events. Detroit itself plays a large role throughout the collection as a way to highlight the racial and economic divides that underscore every interaction the characters have. This is chillingly clear in “Opportunity Cost,” which examines the true motivations and beliefs of a well-meaning teacher at an affluent high school who has only two black students in his class. While the writing can feel lackluster at times, the stories have an emotional depth that carries the reader forward.
Simply written, these stories reveal how easy it is to be misunderstood and how difficult it is to reconcile past mistakes.