In this debut short story collection, Maryland-based journalist Rouleau examines the personal and familial struggles of characters undergoing changes in their lives.
The opening story, “SailorGrl724,” recounts a first date between 28-year-old Douglas Faraday and Leah, 25, whom he first meets on an online dating site. Douglas, like many of the male characters in this collection, is lonely and searching for meaningful connection. He’s a “frequent late-night caller to several emotional crisis hotlines” and appropriately nervous about his date. Although the story is simple and circumspect, it effectively sets up the thematic concerns of the rest of the stories, whose characters are often bereft (such as the recent divorcé of “The Duel of the Depressed”), facing difficult choices (such as a woman deciding whether to terminate her pregnancy in “My Name is Karen”), or in other states of transition, including coming out as gay. For the most part, the stories are rooted in Washington, D.C., and Maryland, and the author describes these settings with a studied familiarity. The titular character in “My Name is Karen,” for instance, waitresses at a restaurant in Bethesda, where she knows how to get good tips from lonely patrons. Not every story dwells on malaise and depression, however. In “Caroline and Sydney’s Wedding,” a tale of adolescent friendship heartwarmingly blossoms into a romance. This story is uniquely structured around a series of wedding toasts, and elsewhere, Rouleau further experiments with odd narrative structures that allow him to navigate a wide range of characters. In “A Perfect Catch,” the author even goes into the past to examine the origins of deception and grift in a historical tale set in small-town Ohio. That said, despite the varied cast and sometimes-sensational subject matter (including alien abduction and exorcism), this compilation never feels very weighty.
Empathetic stories that sometimes lack depth, despite intriguing experiments with form.