Varied and accomplished debut collection from a longtime live storyteller, a “voice from the working-class outskirts of Boston.”
At worst, Lee’s prose dips to something like genre-writing when he wants to paint unschooled lives, but at best he stands proud among the constellation of greats who have been trotted out for blurbs, epitaphs, and, yes, an introduction. Breadth rules here, but more often than not these are stories of people running from mistakes, recent or ancient. In “Glory,” two men robbed of glory in their lives try futilely to regain it from each other in a barroom arm-wrestling match; a man on his way to a vapid cocktail party in “A Fresh Start” experiences a moment of uncertain intimacy with a woman on a subway; in “Koza Nights,” the friendship of two marines in Okinawa is tested when one of them kills a local prostitute, perhaps accidentally; a war reunion for a less than perfect soldier (“The Secrets of Cooperstown”) offers redemption to the soldier and his wife after a failed pregnancy; “Territorial Rights” finds two members of a five-piece band called the Magnificent Seven on a road trip in search of solace after betrayal; and the title story depicts the high-school faculty mating practices when a fiction instructor teaches a workshop on the memoir form. “Oh, Happy Day” is an absurdist tale of the aborted attempt to reinvigorate a marriage—it leads a man to become a Paris street performer with a midget as a partner. By far the finest piece is “A King’s Epitaph,” about the emotional aftermath in a family after the death of an overbearing patron. Here, Lee’s voice fits perfectly with Gilby, the son who narrates. The ultimate message of these stories comes from a man on vacation with his wife, his lover, and her husband: “I suppose the trick is to realize something from each bad turn of the wheel.”
Solid work from a writer who should have been recognized long ago.