Twenty-two stories ranging in length from a few paragraphs to 20 or so pages and in style from the freakishly absurd to the heartbreakingly realistic.
Griner excels in his longer stories, one of which—“On Board the SS Irresponsible”—borders on being a masterpiece. A father, Buddy (the narrator), comes to pick up his three children for a day’s adventure. His former wife, Clare, has custody, so this is a special time for the dad, and he wants to make it special for his children as well. They go out and, somewhat to the chagrin of the kids, do not much of anything—paint SS Irresponsible on the gunwale of his boat, picnic, and fish a little. These mundane activities are erased by a horrific tragedy that, at the end of the story, Buddy must explain to Clare. With great subtlety, Griner captures every nuance of Buddy’s emotional life, from his resentment of Clare to his awkward love for his children to his understandable dread of facing his own moral failure. Another realistic story is “Newbie Was Here,” which takes place among soldiers in Iraq. A private, the newbie of the title, is charged with going across some dangerous territory to milk a cow and bring back the milk for the captain for no discernible reason—but, after all, this is the Army. On the other end of the fictional spectrum is “The Caricaturist’s Daughter,” a surreal little tale in which whatever a caricaturist draws becomes real—so when his young daughter gets overly snoopy, for example, he draws her with a “big nose, long and pointed, like a sharpened broomstick” to remind her not to stick her nose in what doesn’t concern her. She grows up to be a cartoonist and exacts a predictable revenge.
Although relatively simple in narrative structure, Griner’s stories shine a glaring light on the complexities of human personality and family relationships.