Fourteen stories range from photographically realistic to Kafkaesque, as newcomer Reifler casts an unflinching eye on the damage caused by the imperfect morality of her characters, adult and child both.
In “Teeny,” a mood of terrible inevitability sets in when the little girl hired to feed the neighbors’ cats can’t quite bring herself to follow through. A bizarrely precocious but sickly “Baby” exhausts his mother both with his physical neediness and endless metaphysical questioning—until she’s tempted to suffocate him. In “The Splinter,” another less-than-perfect parent realizes that his recent paintings have been “not beautiful, just flawless,” after his six-year-old daughter injures herself due to his neglect. In the affecting “Upstream,” sixth-grader David’s philandering father never acknowledges his culpability as David watches the family disintegrate. Two of the stories move from dark to downright black. Robby, in “Rascal,” is a clear-cut adolescent deviant who wonders if he’s gone “over the line” after terrorizing fellow campers. “The Auditor” is chilling in her cold-blooded willingness to destroy lives, while the supernatural “Memoir,” about a village struck by a mysterious epidemic, is creepy but feels manufactured, and “Personal Foundations of Self-Forming Through Auto-Identification of Otherness,” about a squirrel who believes he’s really a rat, is too obvious in its allusions to identity confusion. Reifler’s attitude toward sex is complex. In “The River and Una,” a sexually overactive teenager withers, perhaps under her mother’s curse, while her younger sister blooms. The prepubescent “Julian” treats sex more gently; as he experiments sexually with his slightly older cousin Peter, their apparent loss of innocence is undercut by Peter’s guileless distress when he realizes that Julian’s father is dying. Sexuality is mere background noise for the volume’s most upbeat tale, “Summer Job,” about a woman who meets her soulmate while both are working summer clerical jobs in the porn industry.
With her strong New York literary scene connections (as Paul Auster’s assistant and coeditor) and her obvious talent, Reifler is bound to receive serious attention for these chiseled tales.