Nine short stories depict characters coping with various forms of loss, from a grieving teen boyfriend-turned-funeral-crasher to an alcoholic academic.
Short story writer Jung, here anthologized for the second time, circles themes of loss, regret and bereavement in tales—primarily set in the Great Lakes region—ranging from vignettes to longer narratives. All, however, are in the writer’s idiosyncratic prose, which includes rich imagery delivered (and sometimes obscured) in run-on sentences and interior monologues that read like poetry. In “Footfalls on the Stairway,” a former drunk marks 10 years of sobriety by pining for his fondly remembered ex-wife. Alcoholism also figures into “A Rainy Day for Daffodils”; three kids goofing off meet a well-educated bum who threw away his life for an existence of boozy vagrancy and who leaves the trio with a dubious gift of self-revelation before moving on. “The Sacred Cave,” one of the most successful shorts, invites readers to solve the riddle of Jamie Barrett, a high school footballer on a desperate mission to mourn at a funeral for a girl he actually doesn’t know; complications arise when the deceased turns out to be black, and the white teenager must come up with a plausible explanation (for us as well as the family) for his anomalous presence. “The Moping Man” is a seemingly harmless small-town recluse who indulges an implacable hatred for his imprisoned wife by obsessively collecting and contemplating bloody Crucifixion icons. The Rod Serling-esque “A Zoo Parting,” follows separate characters at a zoo who reach the climax of their lifelong personal torment at the hands of a mysterious, demonic bully. Happy endings are not Jung’s stock in trade, but “Professor Pearl’s Yelloweyed Dog” uplifts, as a jaded academic gets a boost out of rescuing an animal in peril, a sensation he well knows is purely temporary. For a collection that’s all about pain, Jung’s uneven batch still shows that people take diverse paths in reacting to anguish, including the deliberate avoidance of closure.
Those seeking Chicken Soup for the Soul homilies or tidy endings—or standard English usage and grammar—should look elsewhere, as author Jung explores depths of inner pain.