Half a dozen wonderful stories surrounded by filler.
This first collection from Richmond (Writing/City College of San Francisco) concerns one Alabama family. Here’s what we know about them: there are four daughters, one of them a lesbian; a baby boy was miscarried a week before his due date; both Mom and Dad almost abandoned the family in separate moments of crisis. Connected stories are supposed to bring cohesion to the collection, but here the connections only confuse and suggest that this is actually a novel that didn’t work. It’s regrettable, because Richmond is very talented and has no need of a gimmick; her best pieces are only vaguely related to the purported thrust. Among the treasures are “Propaganda,” a dreamy tale of intimacy and intrigue about the stories that the lonely tell themselves to make their situation bearable; “Down the Shore Everything’s All Right,” in which one daughter breaks up with her boyfriend, who believes that an old story about Bruce Springsteen can save their relationship; and “Intermittent Waves of Unusual Size and Force,” in which another daughter trades histories with Dad only to discover that what happens in life is only as important as how we choose to remember it. The briefest pieces, vignettes that feel like abandoned story beginnings, try to convince us that the collection has something to say about Alabama, but the rest of the tales travel widely, to New York, San Francisco, and Reykjavik. Richmond’s vision is larger than a quirky corner of America; she’s interested in the truth revealed through lies of the heart opened wide, and in the deceit of history.
The author’s basic strategic error inflicts serious damage on several tactical beauties. A collection that should have remained just a collection.