Lubow’s (In a Chicago Minute, 2012, etc.) story collection skewers the world of marketing, with far-flung tales of business and geography mixed in.
The author’s background in advertising informs most of these 10 stories. Readers first meet the narrator of “Stick Shift,” an unnamed “cog in the big gray wheel” of a national retail company. Retail doesn’t thrill him, nor does the stifling cubicle in which he works, where he’s one of a group “that was encouraged to be creative but firmly disallowed to be so by the corporate torpor of the place.” What does thrill him, however, is wordplay. The story later takes on a lurid glow in the wake of a company member’s death; while driving a distraught colleague back to the office in the boss’s MG, the narrator considers the possibility of a carnal moment. But he also muses on mortality and loss and the tiny, banal images that can undo us. The elasticity of language is the adman’s bread and butter, and through it, Lubow’s narrators betray their bravado and vulnerability. In one of the strongest stories, “Incursion,” a man named Joshua drives into the deserted Appalachian landscape in the company car, in the “depressingly formal,” “[i]tchy in the leg” uniform of his company. It’s a long way from Madison Avenue to Cincinnati, and a hand-lettered sign at a rural gas station triggers a confrontation; the resulting events make good use of the strange vultures in the story’s prelude. This is the stuff of gutsy tragedy, with sudden swerves in action that will grip readers. The stories’ places, characters, and actions surge with elemental currents, and some primal urges aren’t quite obliterated by suit-and-tie decorum. Although the descriptions of cars and women are filtered through an expressly male point of view, lighter-weight topics also succeed: a man’s queasiness at a wedding strikes the edges of hilarity; a father talks to a girl whom his son is too shy to approach; and an aging man recalls the first time he met the woman who became his wife—now a quiet partner who shares sunblock with him on a topless beach.
Craftily built survival stories worthy of a wide readership.