An intimate look at lives both everyday and surreal.
The stories in this collection abound with reminders of mortality, characters who live on the periphery of death, and harbingers of ominous fates to come. “Childhood is a dangerous country,” says the narrator of the title story—a statement that could be the thesis for this entire collection. (Though adulthood doesn’t fare much better.) The narrator of “The Man Who Fell Out of the Sky” is forced to grapple with the responsibilities he inherits after a friend dies in a plane crash and his own talent for disseminating bad news. At the center of “Miracle Boy” is a comatose child whose presence seemingly heals the sick, even as he himself is unable to regain consciousness. While some of these stories cover familiar thematic territory—family responsibilities, the flawed bonds between parents and children—Gerard is at his best when he veers into the surreal. “Gloriana,” for instance, boasts a great opening sentence: “There are rules about ghosts, as everybody knows.” The story that follows blends mystery and hints of the supernatural to create a beguiling result. And “Night Camp,” which opens the book, is structured as its narrator’s memories of his time working at a camp for children who, for reasons physical and psychological, were on a nocturnal schedule. It’s a haunting beginning, reminiscent of Ray Bradbury in both its nostalgia and its glimpses of something sinister below the surface. The story showcases the empathy that runs throughout the book and establishes larger themes of memory’s fallibility and the way that youth does not exempt people from harm.
The best of these stories tell resonant and lyrical tales of the dangers and frustrations of life at all ages.