Tales of domestic dysfunction fill this debut collection from Sherman, who has a knack for capturing folks at their most fragile.
Most of Sherman’s stories center on teens and 20-somethings for whom matters of sex and even companionship are brand-new and baffling. If Sherman were a photographer, she’d be a paparazzo exposing people’s most desperately concealed flaws. But unlike a cold soul with a zoom lens, the author renders her subjects clearly and empathetically, and her airy, poetic prose is a perfect match for the brittle environments she describes. Sarah, the protagonist in “The Neutered Bulldog,” grows increasingly involved in the secret affairs of one of her high-school teachers, one of which is with a student; the story elegantly tracks Sarah’s emotional somersaults, from shock to fear to a sort of smirking understanding of how sex shapes her world. But other characters aren’t quite lucky enough to reach such moments of revelation. The teenage girl in “The Reaper” can’t believe that her soldier pen-pal is more interested in seeing her naked than reading about the great time she had bowling; in “Keeping Time,” a young girl becomes an unwitting victim of the neurotic relationship between two of her camp counselors. The mood of the book is downcast, but Sherman’s prose never becomes melodramatically glum or tedious. Her melodic style, rife with dream imagery, gives these stories a lift—her deceptively revealing dialogue and direct sentences lay her characters bare but never pummel them. She’ll fall into the occasionally clichéd archetype or clumsy experiment, as she does in “Homestay,” an attempt to describe a Danish au pair’s life through supposed notes written by her young charge, but the successes more than outweigh the failures.
Careful and poignant, and mercifully short on melodrama.