The title, borrowed from a bit of pop music that editor Hornby (About a Boy, 1998) happens to have heard, is a tip-off: This anthology of younger, mostly English writers lacks an organizing theme, and without it the assemblage of pleasantly written stories seems vaguely aimless.
Hornby explains in his introduction that the collection was gathered and sold to benefit schools for autistic students like the one his son attends. Readers less motivated by the desire to make a contribution to this worthy enterprise than by the wish to find something new from a favorite emerging writer will find several reliable young names on display. Hornby contributes "NippleJesus," about a former bar bouncer hired as a security guard at an art gallery: Rube Meets Art, with some predictable catharses. David Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 1999) adds a desultory bit of ventriloquism, in a story told by a dog who discovers all the usual things about happiness and sadness and life while running very fast through the woods. Zadie Smith (White Teeth, 1999) presents a young man's troubled history with his sister, and Robert Harris (Archangel, 1998) records the amusing self-exculpation a prime minister presents to Parliament in the aftermath of his wild night with a 15-year-old girl. There's nothing new under the sun, it seems: These fictions trace the search for love and "connection" to something, and only Irvine Welsh (Filth, 1999, etc.) and Roddy Doyle (A Star Called Henry, 1999, etc.) bring an authentic graininess to the party. The charms here are more likely to be found in the method of presentation, the fluency and distinction of the voices, than in the stories themselves.
Softly served and easy to swallow, competent and pointless, these tales are adequate to their purpose, and each is ripe in hip if green in heart.