A gaggle of New York guys and gals hunt for love and meaning in debut stories that occasionally tickle the fancy but leave little flavor.
Grodstein has an easy way with the pen but a more difficult time making impact in a collection that aspires to a higher class of wit than it attains. “Lonely Planet” helps set the tone. The deluded narrator, Julie, tells about the night she ran over to a bar to console her friend Allan after he broke with his girlfriend Dorie. The evening ends with the two back at his place while Julie does everything possible to seduce the soused Allan, going so far as to find the ring he’d meant for Dorie, putting it on, and spinning elaborate fantasies about their life together. That is, until Allan wakes up and sees her with the ring on. “Hey Beautiful” is a little fillip about an insecure girl’s night out with two of her (she thinks) more attractive friends. Grodstein knows how to set the scene—or at least how to throw in enough New York sights and sounds to give the stories a hint of weight—but her characters’ relentless shallowness quickly gets tiring. Surprisingly, the stories with male protagonists fare better. “John on the Train: A Fable for Cynical Friends” is a more digestible piece about said John, recently relocated from the Midwest, who lives in Queens and works at a men’s magazine in Manhattan. While the author’s cluelessness about his background occasionally comes to light—he “called old friends from the heartland to see how things went on the farm or at the auto dealer or with the new baby”—its story of John’s lonely crush on a girl who rides the same train into Manhattan has an earnest quality mostly lacking from the other pieces.
Spare and occasionally funny takes from a writer who hasn’t yet found her voice.