Death, disabilities and dysfunction, dryly described, fill 11 stories of unrelenting unhappiness.
Testing the limits of well-meaning readers who want to give good writers a fair chance, Montemarano, whose 2001 novel A Fine Place was rooted in the racial conflicts of Bensonhurst, offers a succession of bleakly linked stories in which people go, for the most part, from bad to worse. The opening story presents an impatient and incompetent mother who carries out a threat to leave her young, innocently disobedient daughter in the park, where she is taken away forever by a probable pedophilic murderer. The narrator is the little girl’s brother, who was doomed to live with the wretched mother and an ineffective father into permanently scarred adulthood. There is a brace of stories narrated by a young man working, in the first, as attendant to a severely disabled couple and, in the second, as attendant to the surviving husband who blames him for the death of his wife. Unable to speak, the wife could communicate solely by animal-like noises and raised eyelids. Unable to feed herself, she was in constant danger of choking, which, in fact, at the opening of the second story, she has done. The cerebral palsy–afflicted husband, disagreeable in the extreme, can speak enough to berate the narrator at every turn. When the widower invites an equally handicapped chum over to watch a Yankees game, he directs the visitor to give his own flunky the afternoon off. The overworked attendant decides to take both gents off to Yankee Stadium, but the drunken trip (the guys in the wheelchair down many beers) gets side-routed to a lap-dance parlor where disaster predictably ensues. A later story features a dog thrown to its death from a window prior to even greater tragedy. The writing is all quite smooth, but one may be reminded of those weird German kindertotenlieder, lovely songs about childhood death.
Not a speck of warmth.