A story collection in which a liberal arts education can’t resolve the mysteries, complexities and absurdities of love.
Practically every one of these stories involves a college campus, a familiar setting to the author (The City Is a Rising Tide, 2006), who is a professor of creative writing, and some stories feature those involved in creative writing or other quasi-literary pursuits. Yet the stories extend well beyond college life or the limits of much university-generated fiction, and the first-person narrators of the stories, a different one in each, rarely invite confusion with the author. Instead, as the rare male narrator says about architecture (“Fialta”), “I knew hardly anything about how to draw a building, except that it ought not to look beautiful; it ought to be spare and slightly inaccessible, its beauty only suggested, so that a good plan looked like a secret to be passed on and on, its true nature hidden away.” Thus it is with these stories, with their hints of theme and defiance of resolution, filled with characters who are overly educated and articulate yet lack some crucial knowledge, which is perhaps unknowable. The narrator of this story is an architecture student who falls in love with another, a relationship doomed since she is the lover of their mutual teacher. Relationships in the collection frequently involve those from different generations or cultures (arranged marriages figure in two stories), with unequal power and infidelities the rule. One narrator (“Settlers”) marvels at how her friend “had found the rabbit hole into real life”—husband, kids, apparent fulfillment—though such domesticity proves to be more an illusion than an attainment. As another says (in the titular opening story), “the dream of a happy family can be so overpowering that people will often put up with a lot to approximate it. Sometimes a little blindness keeps a family together.”
The power in these stories often lies in the puzzlement, for readers as well as characters.