Eleven stories about ordinary people’s hunger for extraordinary human connection.
Winner of the First Series Award for Short Fiction, this collection of understated stories features middle-aged characters who have come to a crossroads in their lives. Most of the characters are looking for relationships that can both nurture and excite them, and for partners to restore their lost potential as well as affirm that they are already special. Many of them have been beaten down by grief, others have been ground down by conventional middle-class lives. One woman, missing her late sister, wonders if she should have an affair. Another meets her long-lost first love one afternoon while the steady, unpretentious husband with whom she has raised two children is at work. All of the dramas in these stories are small, and most include some reference to food. In this collection, mastering an old family recipe means mastering one’s memories, making a perfect pie embodies a commitment to a marriage. The collection’s use of food as a metaphor is pleasant enough in the first few stories, but eventually its overtly symbolic function becomes distractingly ham-handed. The stories themselves are uneven. Some flounder as they attempt to depict the subtle way that memory haunts even the tedium of everyday life, and some devolve into predictability. While there are several stories, written in a quiet and low-keyed voice, that perfectly capture the tension between lost futures and vital memories, the collection as a whole is pat, each story ending with some kind of epiphany.