A debut collection of 12 tales, by poet and novelist McFerrin (Namako, 1998), offers myriad views of women faced with difficult or awkward choices—but holds them at such a safe distance that neither the women nor their circumstances are especially compelling.
From first to last, a savvy detachment is the guiding principle. “Coyote Comes Calling,” the opener, depicts an Arizona woman having a rough week: her doctor tells her she either has a tumor or is pregnant, she gets a flat tire, and a man she wants to sleep with asks her for the phone number of her best friend. But when she gets high and meditates, everything looks much better. The final piece, “Khalida’s Dog,” adds a hint of sorcery to the mix as a plus-sized mathematician in Berkeley takes up belly-dancing but then, at a whiff of scandal, pokes her nose into her enchanting instructor’s past a bit too much. More sobering is “Childproofing,” in which a woman has come a long way from her Nebraska roots to live in a fabulous designer home complete with Olympic-size pool—except that the fence around this paradise isn’t sufficient to keep out deer, which invariably fall into the pool and turn her into a nervous wreck. The title story offers a slice of human tragedy, too, as a daughter struggles with the reality of caring for her Alzheimer’s-ravaged mother while trying to keep alive the love they shared. More common, though, are fluffier tales of romance like “A Little Variety,” about a gray-haired San Francisco gardener who finds wedded bliss with a laundry-impaired young hunk.
Ranging from the comic to the catastrophic, carefully including women of all ages and sizes: a collection a mile wide and an inch deep, smoothing over far more than it reveals.