Gifted novelist and essayist Boswell (The Half-Known World, 2007, etc.) lets it all hang out in 13 unpredictable short stories.
The collection opens with the showy “No River Wide,” which confoundingly juxtaposes the lives of a woman in two places at once. Many of the stories focus on formative periods. In “Smoke,” for example, a trio of adolescents boast about sex but keep their secrets, while “Supreme Beings” depicts a troubled 20-year-old convinced that Jesus Christ is hiding out in his town. A few pieces, like “City Bus,” are mere sketches instead of full-fledged portraits, but more often, the stories run deep. The best of them lean to the dark side, bordering on crime fiction tinged with a beat-influenced incongruity. “A Walk in Winter” is particularly tense, as a young man visits the country with a rural sheriff to find out whether the ruined corpse found nearby is his long-disappeared mother. The deeply uncomfortable title story follows a drifter named Keen during a summer of mushrooms and transgressions in a borrowed house with his amigos. Naturally, his bad mojo gets the best of him. Dealing with low lives, Boswell never abandons his insight or his storytelling verve, both on full display in “Lacunae.” Its protagonist, a divorced man who has lost his way in the world, contemplates fatherhood in its many forms. “Hearts can swell,” he thinks. “One’s father may speak the truth even as he settles into death. One’s mother may see in a coincidence the opportunity for redemption. One’s own child may have the blood and genes of another man. Reason may live in things that are not rational.” Few like what they see on the unwelcome voyages of self-discovery delineated here.
Heartbreakers from a writer who knows how to do it right.