In these 12 stories, MacDonald (Montpelier Tomorrow, 2014, etc.) uses far-flung, often exotic locales to emphasize her characters’ difficulties in making emotional connections.
The title story sets the tone—anger at odds with longing: when a vacationing American realizes that the rug merchant with whom she’s had a fling in Istanbul has set her up for what is probably a scam, memories of her estranged deadbeat brother complicate her reaction. “Pancho Villa’s Coin” offers a child’s jaundiced view of a trip to Mexico with her beaten-down mother and alcoholic, abusive father. “Key West” presents a single mother vacationing with her adored but selfishly obnoxious college-age son. Another desperate mother in “Finding Peter” searches for her missing adopted 18-year-old son in Prague, where he has disappeared because he feels “at home here.” The community college student in “Proud to Be an American”—set in Ohio—feels betrayed when his boss, a father figure, gives him notice. In “Two Trains in Manmad,” the arrival of her widowed mother-in-law from India forces a Canadian woman to face the reality of her long marriage. In contrast, the Japanese “Ambassador of Foreign Affairs” arrives in California for his daughter’s reluctant marriage to an American and sees that love may be possible across cultures. Other stories show glints of similar optimism. A young American man with a facial deformity finds emotional acceptance from an unlikely source in Thailand. A 73-year-old woman exploring Turkey’s Anatolian coast with her adult granddaughter stops trying to be the “cool, adventuresome grandma” and relaxes in “Tesekkür.” In “Oregano,” a newly married 42-year-old finds her much younger husband continually annoying until he catches her off guard. Elderly affection becomes a possibility in “The Bean Grower.” The harshest story, “Weekend in Baltimore”—about racial injustice and, to a lesser degree, friendship—is timely but obvious and stands apart from the rest of the volume.
With elegant prose enlivened by shards of mean humor, MacDonald captures how hard it is to love and/or trust abroad or at home.