A debut collection that could practically pass for a novel; almost all the stories feature members of a single family through three generations, focusing on Anna Riley as she grows from childhood equestrienne to wife and mother.
In the opening story, “The Third Rail,” John Riley is the 12-year-old son of an abusive, alcoholic father in the midst of the Depression. By the second tale, “A Matter of Time,” it's the mid-1970s, and John has become the alcoholic father of 10-year-old Anna; the stories continue chronologically, focusing on Anna (and occasionally her troubled relationship with her father) as she navigates adolescence, love, marriage, motherhood and life “as a middle-aged orphan.” But Anna is not the main character in every story; some feature the college days of Peter, who will become her husband, and his doomed romance with Anne, who will eventually form a close friendship with the initially wary Anna. There are complications involving abortions and all sorts of deaths—pets, babies, parents—causing Anna to muse, somewhat heavy-handedly, that “life is too hard sometimes, but life is all there is.” Yet subtlety of characterization is often the writer’s strength, as her stories move through the conventional details of domesticity to panic attacks and “uncharted insanity,” showing the fragility beneath even the most stable lives. Though some of these stories work fine on their own, most benefit from the context provided by the others, the development of character and the complexities of relationships from one to the next.
Not surprisingly, Dugan is at work on a novel, which readers will eagerly anticipate after reading this promising collection.