The 2002 John Simmons Short Fiction Award winner has far more misses than hits among seven tales that for the most part seem inspired by TV rather than life.
The title story is simple teenage angst: Does that “feeling down between my legs” mean our knife-carrying, still-a-virgin, half-convincing bad girl narrator is really a lesbian? In “She’s Anonymous,” a woman in a shallow and tawdry relationship heads inevitably toward a shallow and tawdry epiphany, while “That Easy Kind of Life” is a soaper about the aborted child of an uninspiring couple (“ . . . pretending not to notice that the light sheen of sweat on Max’s chest was accentuating the cuts and ripples of his well-worked-out upper body”) that has more in common with After-School Specials than with literature. Similarly, “Hugo, Arthur and Bobby Joe” is the disappointing but aptly named set of random pettinesses surrounding an all-too-Ally McBeal–like narrator’s three boyfriends, and the final story, a long-winded father-son trip, is little more than an opportunity to demonstrate authorial proficiency at stereotypical male machismo. Too often, Valeri depicts characters who lack sophistication with vision that is itself lacking in sophistication. The one exception is the striking “Whatever he Did, he Did Enough,” about a man’s attempt to rescue a young Cuban dancer. The piece becomes an examination of love from its fairy-tale beginnings, on through delusion, and then to the unhappily ever after. As a treatise on jealousy and the death of romance, it is profound and sets the author alongside the likes of Mary Gaitskill. But most of the time the literary here is only a sheen—the stories often fail to achieve the little they aspire to—and as to the award: Who would want to enter only to lose to so clearly a fledgling effort?
The juvenilia of a vision still in search of itself.