A varied, contemporary, character-driven collection of 14 stories infused with personality and life’s interminable bounty.
A good portion of the deceptively imaginative stories in Peterson’s (Catherine Wheels, 2005) vibrant collection have appeared in smaller quarterly publications and incorporate a modern ambiance with timely themes that appeal to a wide audience. Ideas about escape and freedom permeate â€œIt’s Darkest in Suburbia,” in which a plucky college senior ventures home to sleepy suburban Maryland for the summer, preparing to desert his girlfriend and religious family for a new life on a sheep ranch in Montana. Nagging cabin fever catches up to a co-dependent couple who seemingly ice fish from their capsizing living-room couch in the fantastically surreal â€œWalking on Water.” Peterson skewers the â€œincestuous” familial machinations of a corporate workplace in â€œThe Office.” Though most of the selections are uniform in length, brevity doesn’t rob the smaller tales, like â€œThe Inept,” of significance. In it, a man’s stagnant life is reinvigorated by the arrival of his nephew, a retarded young man who applauds at the most inappropriate moments. â€œSatisfaction Guaranteed,” also mere pages in length, details the sad deterioration of a delusional man and the attempts of his brother to save him. Other standouts include a moving yarn (â€œAngels Don’t Sleep”) about a mournful dog walker whose chance meeting with an ethereal man and his pet Akita guides her toward a blissful state of mind, and the title story, about a backyard barbecue at which, after a few too many cocktails, neighbors start challenging individual notions of normality. There are no clunkers–even the weaker tales emerge as effective character studies, as in â€œA Girl and a Chainsaw,” about the interpersonal bonding between two Montana construction workers and a scorned woman, or the son who must bear witness to his newly retired father’s material liquidation in â€œTool Sale.”
A slyly impressive, poignant collection from a writer with great potential.