Rage in all its ugly glory takes center stage in this delectable debut collection.
The characters populating the landscape of these nine stories exist mostly in a rarefied life of the mind—scholars, teachers, reviewers, artists—until some crisis forces them to focus their powers of observation on themselves. In “An Excitable Woman,” an academic has no idea what to do about his spiteful mother, who lives only for the pleasure of rejecting the approaches of her “big-shot professor son.” The protagonist of “Samantha,” a black student full of a “surging, corrosive indignation,” is spoiling for a fight with anyone at her predominantly white college—the audio-visual department assistant, a minority affairs counselor, the bookstore cashier—until a brief encounter with a professor yields some surprises, not least of which is her own response. A music aficionado, awed by a fellow audience member (“The Stranger”) who physically removes a whole row of disruptive teenagers from their seats at a Tanglewood concert, begins to stalk the man until he finds himself engaged in an even more violent act. In “The Visit,” an up-and-coming poetry critic meets Robert Lowell and his wife, Lady Caroline, in their trashed bedroom at the Gramercy Hotel in a set piece that is part Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, part “Beavis and Butthead.” In “Secrets and Sons,” a magazine editor and long-time friend to a dying poet is forced to come to terms with his competitive hatred for the poet’s uneducated gay ward when he is upstaged at the funeral by voluminous evidence that he knew only one small part of the man’s life. Boyers’s stories about academics and art-lovers who hide their more ignoble characteristics until life inevitably draws them out is exquisitely crafted and acutely observed.
Serving recommendation: One story per sitting. The book may be savored longer that way.