A collection of seven curiously crafted tales of malevolence and melancholia.
Lamb’s imagination runs dark, and his stories of haunted lives, repressed memories and sordid pasts creep into the psyche like spiders. The lead story, “You Must Remember This,” features a frustrated woman getting distasteful memories of her daughter systematically erased from her mind. Its themes closely mirror those of the abortion controversy, and this deeply disturbing piece sets the tone for the ensuing stories. All start out strong and feature richly drawn characters but then end abruptly. Only two of the seven tales, both involving handguns, employ this literary device effectively: “Mixed State” and “Grand Guignol” both build to explosive conclusions that are stronger because they aren’t spelled out. One ends: “When the woman pleaded, ‘Please put the gun away; stop pointing it at me,’ Sylvia lowered the .38 so it was pointed at the desk instead of the princess cut diamond, but she told the woman, ‘I can’t put it away because it’s all I have left.’ ” In this case, less is, indeed, more. The same, however, cannot be said for other tales, which, instead of resonating, feel unrealized. In “Pigeon Roost,” for example, a young boy is given the responsibility of warning the rest of his village about an impending Indian attack. In the context of a larger work, the story would make for a fine chapter, but here, it simply doesn’t have enough depth to stand on its own. “Station Approach,” which concludes the collection, is by far the most fully realized and structurally sound tale. This story, about a man who decides to visit his deceased partner’s son, has vivid characters and a sly narrative, as well as a satisfying twist that almost makes up for its open-ended conclusion.
Indeterminate endings undermine a set of otherwise carefully rendered pieces.