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by Peter Rock

Pub Date: March 15th, 2006
ISBN: 1-59692-171-4
Publisher: MacAdam/Cage

Curiously dry, unsympathetic short stories by Utah novelist Rock (The Bewildered, 2005, etc.).

Nameless, untamed landscapes form the backdrop for most of these 13 tales featuring random collisions between regular people. “Do I know you?” is a perennial refrain here. “Disappeared Girls” depicts a chance meeting on a train between 15-year-old Miranda, headed for a visit to her grandmother in New Jersey, and 31-year-old Edward, sporting braces and a see-through backpack, who is traveling back to his childhood neighborhood. “Are you trying to have sex with me?” Miranda boldly asks Edward, but the poor guy turns out to be a harmless naïf, an artist more engaged with his dreams than with the girl. Meanwhile, the strangely disembodied tale “Disentangling” shows Dr. Ralston Bender, a Philadelphia medical examiner steeped in the works of Edgar Allan Poe, conducting a series of quasi-sexual experiments involving strangers in a hotel room. The experiments bring together a motley group, including a feral street boy, a sad legal secretary and a sympathetic black man named Sylvester, all gathered to fulfill Bender’s creepy aim of “spreading hope.” In “Gold Firebird,” the aged owner of a highway gas station finds the visit of a sad young wife in a fabulous old car so resonant of his own emotional history—she is fleeing an unfaithful husband—that he doesn’t mind when she can’t pay for the gas and steals his stuff. Rock seems to take perverse delight in bringing his characters close to the louche and seedy.

A solid representation of this writer’s mature work, notable for its detached intensity, but his stories’ brevity and randomness will leave many dissatisfied.