A gifted American fiction writer tackles little slivers of crime from the points of view of young women on the verge of self-discovery.
Had these hardhearted stories of trespassers, exiles and beautiful losers come from one of the regular blokes, readers would label them noir and call it a day. But in the hands of superlative writer van den Berg (What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, 2009), these stories seem to dig a little deeper and resonate a little longer. In the opening story, “I Looked For You, I Called Your Name,” a woman on her honeymoon realizes a series of natural disasters is merely a precursor to the looming tragedy of her own marriage. “Opa-Locka” is a traditional private-eye story about two sisters playing detective, waiting to see how the story ends. Two fantastic and very different stories are the collection’s highlights. “Lessons” captures a moment in the risky lives of a gang of rural youngsters who have reimagined themselves as stickup artists. “Why didn’t they go to school and get regular jobs and get married and live in houses?” it asks. “The short answer: they are a group of people committed to making life as hard as possible.” Meanwhile, in “Acrobat,” a woman whose husband abandons her in Paris falls in with a band of street performers who adopts her as one of their own. In “Antarctica,” a rather uncommon housewife travels a vast distance to a remote scientific base at the South Pole to discover how her brother died. “The Greatest Escape” finds a young woman wrestling with the long-ago disappearance of her father. Finally, the title story successfully integrates all of van den Berg’s gifts for stories of mistaken identity, unresolved menace and uncomfortable insight. With prose as crisp and cool as that of Richard Lange or Patricia Highsmith, van den Berg is someone to keep track of.
A mesmerizing collection of stories about the secrets that keep us.