A debut volume of short fiction explores the ways that people can hurt and heal one another.
A third grade teacher contemplates the rise of Donald Trump while his girlfriend obsesses about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. A gay couple keep their love secret while hosting a morning radio show in upstate New York. A woman leaves her husband and goes with her daughter to her mother’s house, where she must contend with her parent’s new habit of yelling at people who aren’t there. In this collection, Chin tackles the difficulties of close human relationships: the sorts of tensions that exist between relatives, friends, and lovers that are rarely discussed but that can come to define the parties involved. In “The End of the World,” a high schooler’s crush on his allegedly straight best friend comes to a head during a Fourth of July party. In the title story, the same two boys deal with the aftermath of the incident, attempting to grapple with feelings of confusion, identity, and betrayal. Between the longer stories, the author includes a number of flash pieces that cut even more directly at these themes, as in “Interrogation,” about a disturbing game played by two siblings: “When we started, you were five, I was seven. Back when two years spelled a difference and I could still tell you what we’d play, and in the absence of Mom or Dad, I might as well have been Mom or Dad, might as well have been God, because who were you to question my instruction?” In its own way, each tale seems to ask: How can the characters continue after all the hurt that they have done to one another? After all the damage they have done to themselves?
Chin’s prose is sparse and plainspoken, recalling any number of American fiction’s working-class minimalists. Here he describes the protagonist in “Better”: “Joel wrote bullet point descriptions for a company that sold traffic cones, hard hats, safety glasses, and harnesses. Selling durability. Selling comfort. He never slept enough. Started each day with a Centrum and a cigarette. The combination of the two on an empty stomach made him nauseous.” The writing occasionally flowers into a chatty descriptiveness, particularly when the author discusses the physical environs of Shermantown, New York, the fictional place in which a number of the stories are set: “Tonight, it’s an older crew. Not his friend’s parents’ place, but a house of their own. Out in the Podunk-est outskirts of Shermantown. Rundown as it is, the house is big, I’ll give them that, with flat eaves and segments of roof already set up with lawn chairs.” His characters—mostly dissatisfied young men and older boys groping for meaning—are well drawn and sympathetic, though the pieces vary in terms of their emotional impact. The best are the Shermantown tales, which better access the confusion of youth and the tragedy of small cities, but every story is compelling enough to carry readers through to the gritty end.
A moving collection from a promising talent who has a lot to say.