Masterful stories by a writer of great lyrical gifts.
Upton focuses on personal relationships, especially the immediacy and estrangement that emerge from the intensity of family life. The first story, “The Ideal Reader,” blends fact and fantasy as the narrator presents herself as the biographer of Malcolm Alfred Kulkins, a fictional literary lion and supposed friend of Truman Capote and other glitterati. Mysteriously, Kulkins had published almost nothing during the last 17 years of his life, a period dating from the suicide of Seyla Treat, one of his former lovers, with whom he had a daughter, Flame. The biographer ultimately learns that talent is passed across generations when she intuits that some priceless material supposedly left by Kulkins might have been forged by Flame instead. “The Tao of Humiliation” (which one character within the story mishears as the “cow” of humiliation) introduces us to Barry, Everett and Lucas, three men on a retreat in the woods who are forced to confront some unsavory moments of their pasts—and in their farcical misadventures, they don’t seem to have learned from their mistakes. One of the best stories is the wryly comic “You Know You’ve Made It When They Hate You.” Here, a community-theater drama critic continually savages the performances of Molly Crane, a hapless local actress, but by the end of the story, they literally find themselves in hot water when they share a hot tub, and she realizes that she’s “as miserable at being a wife as she was at being an actress.” Upton specializes in ending her stories with epiphanies that can be searing in their poignancy.
These 17 tales explore personal and familial relationships with both pathos and humor—and all are well worth reading.