The blurry line between strangers and intimates is drawn, waveringly policed, and transgressed in these short stories.
Walker (At Danceteria and Other Stories, 2016) confronts his mostly female protagonists with new and disturbing relationships that lead to upsetting renegotiations of their lives. A wife discovers that her vain, unmarried mother gave up another daughter for adoption, and that sister reappears to reclaim a family life that never happened; a socially phobic woman weathers agonizing parties and then has to choose between a gorgeous new boyfriend and her trusty Toyota; a mother finds that she has more in common with her bitchy teen daughter than she would like, including their taste in men; and a Japanese salaryman in Singapore has his life destroyed when his lover’s roommate catches him using the ladies’ room. In addition, dowdy secretaries at a PR firm bristle at their hot new office mate and plot to hoist her by her own sex appeal; a woman restarts her life repeatedly in different corners of the world but is dogged by violent relationships with men; and a blocked writing professor rustles up material by stealing the ideas of her best student and starting an affair with a colleague whose wife is dying of cancer. Several tales feature gay men immersed in rough trade: A high school locker-room rape gets reprised later in a porn star’s edgy scenes; a male prostitute describes the prosaic realities of his job as the tricks turn darker. Walker’s scintillating stories crackle with frank sexuality and deadpan comedy. There’s a satirical edge to many of them, but they are always grounded in prose that’s realistic but extraordinarily vivid and even nightmarish. “When the nurse handed her the wrinkled little thing, its skin so much darker than hers and Takahiko’s, the baby opened its mouth and emitted a horrible shriek like a preening beastling, its eyes stapled shut with lines of mucus,” Walker writes in the eerie “Why Burden a Baby with a Body?” In this story, a young Japanese mother neglects her squalling newborn to obsess over a pretty, twinkling fantasy child in an online role-playing game. The result is a deep dissection of lives where the barriers to human connection can take on sometimes-comic, sometimes-monstrous proportions.
A fine collection of tales, as unnerving as they are entertaining.