In the year 2000, as the millennium shifts, the characters in these 11 short stories shift their own perceptions by connecting with others.
Behar (Turn the Page, 2015, etc.) explains in an author’s note that he first drafted these tales in 1998 and 2002; as a result, a millennial preoccupation with change is at the heart of this well-observed collection. In the opening story, “Death Threats,” a struggling rock band finds itself making a devil’s bargain with Jennifer Newman, the daughter of a hated radio station owner. They’d hoped to manipulate her father by getting her to sing with them; soon, as the band’s lead singer, she brings them new success, but the narrator misses their old freedom, which is gone like Jennifer’s former pudginess: “they swear 2000 is the year we make it big…[but] when I look at Jennifer’s washboard stomach, all I can think about is what we’ve lost.” As this example shows, change can be transformative but also uncomfortable—or even strange, as in the story “Seepage.” In it, a suburban couple’s sweaty sensuality, symbolized by a fuel oil leak, at first disgusts their straight-laced neighbors, only to later become a welcome, if unwholesome, seduction. Other stories, told from first- and third-person perspectives, explore a range of viewpoints, including that of a young boy puzzled by his Chinese friend’s grandmother and her superstitions; those of a 30-ish yuppie couple hoping to adopt a Russian boy; and that of a young woman going fishing with her boyfriend. In all these situations, Behar ably employs a flexible, natural voice to trace his characters’ realizations. For example, in the final story, a makeup artist for a flamboyant women’s wrestling team describes an unlikely but dramatic romance between a fan and a wrestler: “I held out for a guy who would look at me the way Red had looked at Mount Fuji. It took fifteen years for that guy to come along. It was worth the wait.”
Strong, wide-ranging tales that more than fulfill the promise of the author’s first book.