Moulthrop (To Tell You the Truth: Stories, 2014, etc.) collects 12 short stories, including nine that have been previously published.
In most of these tales, the author closely focuses on the narrator’s point of view, giving the collection the cumulative effect of an interior monologue. In “Uncle Louis,” for example, the main character looks back on his adolescence in the 1950s, when his sad-sack uncle suddenly decided to become a playwright and invited the family to a reading, complete with bongo drums, at San Francisco’s City Lights bookstore. In “Mom As I Remember,” also set in the ’50s, the narrator, Oscar, recalls the year when his emotionally unstable mother took him on the road in a sea foam green Ford sedan. These stories are typical of the collection as a whole: inward-focused and personal, with characters reflecting on family losses or on turning points in their lives. Two stories, however, are less successful in capturing that sense of interiority. “Zip Code” and the title story feature simple, earnest narrators, but the characters’ folksy language and emotional simplicity seem a bit reductive. “Miss Honeybunch Takes a Dip,” on the other hand, is more surprising, with its pivot to a sharp final scene. At a country-club pool, sleek belle Rosellen tries to sweet-talk her boyfriend into abandoning a friend. But when the other boy is put in danger, she does something that’s both a furious bid for her boyfriend’s attention and a clever way out of the confrontation. “The Wendy Paper” is the most engaging story of the collection—a funny, nuanced depiction of a couple trying to decide what to do about their condominium neighbor. It’s particularly enjoyable to watch Moulthrop get out of a single narrator’s head and explore the byplay among multiple characters. Details of daily life and period Americana, such as gas stations, canned soups, and chenille bedspreads, texture the tales.
A collection that’s most successful when it focuses on the specifics and the sharpness of its characters.