A bleak, relentless collection of short stories from Lopez (Asunder, 2010, etc.).
Are you a good person or a bad person? Don't ask Lopez: the “good people” in this collection are misogynists, abusers, victims, narcissists, and depressives. Not a lot of faith in humanity here. “Everything is always going to hell,” one character says. Another narrator—trying to comprehend and care about the death of his neighbor’s son—says, “I want to say that anyone can seem like a good person, that everyone in this neighborhood seems like a good person, but that certainly can’t be the case.” Another narrator, contemplating suicide, confesses, “I almost never prepare a meal for myself as I am not worth the bother most of the time.” The humor, when it comes, is dark—as in “Essentials,” which consists entirely of a narrator telling you what he won’t tell you. Is all life sadness and absence then? Few of these formally inventive, first-person stories gather much tension in a conventional sense. Instead, Lopez picks a subject (defenestration or massages or suicide or the movie Margaret) and circles it, his sentences like particles in a cyclic accelerator; the reader waits, nervously, for collision. “Remember to have a vision,” Lopez writes in the imperative-based last story, “How to Direct a Major Motion Picture,” and he certainly has a vision: this story collection is a comprehensive mosaic of misery. Read it in one sitting and you’ll feel out of breath. Is it exhausting? Yes, but that’s the point: you don’t read a book like this for variety. Instead, you read it to stumble into the sunlight afterward, trying to convince yourself you’re a good person, but man oh man, you’re not so sure.
Depressing, inventive, and marvelous—a thought-provoking path to feeling awful.