Tales of ordinary transformations and everyday occurrences are made magical in a collection of nine stories by Groff (The Monsters of Templeton, 2008).
The details make the difference in this sophomore effort. They range from specific realities, as when a lonely teen swimmer watches her breath rise in “a great silver jellyfish-bubble of air” before her small town falls apart in “Lucky Chow Fun,” to dreamlike metaphor, as when another young woman feels her depression as “this black sack filled with cobras” in “Majorette.” “Lucky Chow Fun,” which returns to Templeton, the fictionalized Cooperstown, N.Y., of the author’s debut novel, was previously published, as was the vivid “L. DeBard and Aliette,” a retelling of a tragic romance, set in New York during the flu epidemic of 1918. As a collection, the stories are loosely connected by their themes of metamorphosis, as girls grow up, lose their illusions and, often, find unexpected happiness. Images of water and fire run through these tales as well: Aliette, the Heloise substitute, regains her strength after polio via swimming lessons with the handsome L. DeBard, and, in “Watershed,” a diver tells of an elderly couple who end their pain by diving into a waterfall. “There is no ending, no neatness in this story,” the narrator offers. “There never really is, where water is concerned.” The “wild, febrile, kind, ambiguous” nature of the elements may serve to explain the power in these stories, which could have faltered in the hands of a lesser writer.
Groff’s skill makes commonplace occurrences seem compelling.