Novelist Cumbo (Boarding Pass, 2012) renders key moments of ordinary people’s lives in his debut collection of short stories.
Cumbo, a prep school teacher in Buffalo, New York, starts his collection with “The Bike.” Told from the perspective of a dying Vietnam War soldier, the story then shifts to young Stevie McHugh, living in fictional Lawson, New York, who meets the soldier’s grieving father after he and a pal spot a “bright red bike” on the man’s property. Stevie then experiences coming-of-age awareness about sex in “Thunderbird,” thanks to a visiting older cousin’s fling with a glamorous woman who later shows up at Stevie’s first day of high school. “Late Dinner” explores the changing perceptions of new parents when a friendly waitress offers to watch over their baby. In “Chalk,” that dusty writing tool elicits a retiring teacher’s reflections. “Valediction” finds superachiever Madeline sobbing over a college love affair, her first significant miscalculation; “Phoenix, Arizona,” traverses time and country to track a man’s journey to getting married; and “Half Past Twelve” recounts a Scottish college student’s brief encounters with an American girl. Other offerings include “Park Avenue,” about a Princeton grad learning what’s in store for his investing career, and “Silverback,” in which a girl eyes a zoo gorilla after shoplifting a candy bar. Cumbo certainly delivers on his vision of realistic fiction that “resonates precisely because it might as well have happened.” Cumbo’s tales feature a spectrum of sympathetic characters and plausible situations and ably deliver telling details (chalk, etc.) and expressive sentences: “It was all pennies,” muses the “Silverback” girl, connecting her guilt to the taste of copper. Some entries will naturally be more compelling than others, but overall, this author provides ruminative, true-to-life fiction.
Elegant writing that captures the minor revelations of everyday experiences.