Fourteen stories from Tuck (Siam, 1999; The Woman Who Walked on Water, 1996) aim often at intricacy in design but bear the stamp of the mass-produced.
In “La Mayonette,” for example, about two families on a rural vacation in France, tone (curiously distant) and symbolism (a pattern in the wallpaper, a long-ago trip to Egypt) are asked to reveal—well, a woman’s unhappiness, but unhappiness so much without apparent real cause as to be unmoving. The exotic is used also to make more of things than they are in “L’Esprit de L’Escalier,” about a boyfriend, a car accident, and a lunch with Alberto Moravia, all told in an inexplicably parodic style (“You could tell right away by the way Massimo said his Rs that Massimo was not from Rome. Massimo was from the north, from Turin. Massimo knew a lot of people”); and it’s used again in “Rue Guynemer,” about an American woman staying in Paris to recover from a divorce (“At the time when she discovered that her ex-husband was having an affair . . . she was both hurt and angry”), a story that name-drops its way (Scott and Zelda, Françoise Sagan, Stein and Toklas) to an unearned ending. Characters get almost to the edge of gaining roundness, substance, or depth, but a thinness in the soil keeps them from growing. In “Verdi,” a woman on a dude ranch is preoccupied by the Donner Party (“. . . she felt alone. Really alone”); an incipiently religious young girl and her pretty mother wait out WWII in Lima (“Limbo”); and a woman isn’t sure how to act when she joins a father and daughter who swim naked (“Horses”). “Second Wife,” “Next of Kin,” and “Hotter” (set in Laos) are stories of the woe that is in marriage, while “The View from Madama Butterfly’s House” is an oddly artificial tour—told by “we”—of the Nagasaki Museum.
Published previously in the New Yorker and elsewhere, tales that will seem more empty to some than to others.