Madness, mayhem and murder stalk these eight stories, the latest collection from a veteran American storyteller now living in London (Mrs. Caliban, 1997, etc.).
The opening story (“Last Act: The Madhouse”) is classic Ingalls, a finely spun web that’s suspenseful, creepy and droll. It concerns William, a high-school student with an unusual passion: Italian opera. He longs for that world of high emotions and, cruelly, his wish is granted. He falls passionately in love with fellow student Jean and impregnates her. William’s conniving mother interferes and, through soap-opera machinations, manages to detach her son from the relationship. Years later, he discovers her role and goes crazy. He then hires a detective to find the long-lost Jean. Just as entertaining is “Correspondent,” in which a woman schemes to preserve her marriage to a charismatic war reporter. Key to the story are the lucky charms that accompany him into war zones; trinkets and artifacts that may offer more protection than an unknowable God. There are two very long stories among the lot. “Veterans” contrasts two Korean War vets. Franklin saves Sherman’s life on the battlefield, then becomes a happy family man in peacetime; Sherman, an angry loner, freeloads off the family, eventually murdering a marginal character. That’s problematic, as is the inconclusive ending. “No Love Lost” depicts a nightmarish dog-eat-dog world. In the aftermath of war, a family struggles to survive. Infidelity leads to murder. The story, though overwrought, has undeniable power.
An uneven but still substantial work from a quirky, under-appreciated writer.