The stories in this debut collection cover familiar territory with subtle prose that strives for emotional impact.
In these 10 stories, Clouther (Creative Writing/Stony Brook, Johns Hopkins) explores the promise and disappointments of daily life; aging, relationships and religion are frequent topics. At their strongest, the stories develop an intimate voice and the reader can feel characters’ hopes and despair. The title story is a particular standout. A group of airplane passengers are stuck on a layover; the story is told from their collective perspective ("For no good reason, we were flying to Chicago," it begins). The first-person plural point of view is inviting and fresh. As the passengers describe their midlife ennui, the empty promises of youth become a shared experience. In “Isabelle and Colleen,” a memorable narrator again breathes life into a potentially stale plot. This story about a teen pregnancy is narrated by the younger brother of the father-to-be. James is torn between admiration and shame, between his own adolescent insecurities and his family’s much larger issues. His innocent, earnest perspective is endearing and poignant. Too often, however, the stories adopt an overly impersonal tone, making it hard to feel the depth of what’s at stake. In “The Third Prophet of Wyaconda,” a self-proclaimed prophet appears in a small town promising a miracle. The story reads like a parable or allegory without the clarity needed to interpret a meaning or moral. “Puritan Hotel, Barnstable” suffers a similar limitation. The characters grapple with a family member’s illness but are too generic for the reader to experience their grief. Both “Open House” and “I Know Who You Are” raise more questions than they answer and fall short of any emotional effect they might intend.
Clouther’s stories range from moving to boring to downright confusing. Taken together, the collection fails to leave a mark.