A first collection from a young author whose work has appeared in Harper’s and the New Yorker, where he was featured as a 2001 Debut Fiction Writer.
Nesbitt’s ten stories have appealingly cryptic titles such as “Chimp Shrink & Backwards” and “Man in Towel with Gun,” and each presents a wry, sometimes helpless, always young black male narrator. Often these protagonists find themselves in boring but amusing occupations: cleaning up a deer carcass in “Quality Fuel for Electric Living”; running a volatile nightclub in “Thursday the 16th”; or working at a second-tier zoo in the title story. Sometimes—as in “The Ones Who May Kill You in the Morning,” about “The Help” at an obnoxious rich man’s party—these situations lead to danger or confrontation, but most of the pieces feel unresolved. From their “weird” environments, Nesbitt’s narrators deliver ironic jabs at the world: one has a girlfriend who “kisses like a mule biting a carrot,” while another opens his tale by saying, “My dad lost his left leg, so he has to drive an automatic.” Such comic lines are sometimes right-on; more often than not, though, they fall flat—a flatness compounded by the fact that all ten narrators sound identical. They usually drink too much, but they seem to do this not out of need but because their author couldn’t contrive anything else for them to do. Still, the monotony of character is not the problem here: the real difficulty is that in the absence of well-drawn characters, your attention naturally shifts to the plot; and in the absence of anything coherent or dramatic happening in these stories, your attention shifts to the style. Nesbitt’s style, though often bold and winning, can’t carry the whole load, and so the most engaging aspect of this collection is its titles.
A disappointment, especially for a debut writer with such publishing credentials.