Husbands and wives and sons and daughters navigate conflicts in this character-driven short story collection.
A woman comes home to her family, fresh from her lover’s arms; a son appreciates his parents’ marriage in the face of his father’s dementia; a woman goes to confront a neighbor’s wife, who has abruptly left her family. The domestic landscapes of these simple stories are familiar, flush with authentic dialogue and emotional depth. Unhappy couples appear in several stories, and married men and women stand at the precipice of change. There’s tension, but surprises are rare. In “Indictable Offenses,” a wife finds an upsetting list of her husband's disappointments in her, and struggles with the decision to stay or go. Elsewhere, in “How’d It Go?,” a woman’s distracted behavior with her husband and daughter indicates the affair she’s having with a man from her pottery class. These conflicts aren’t necessarily new or daring, but they’re plausible, with characters that stay in the bounds of the ordinary, rarely crossing into the extraordinary. The setting is a bit ambiguous, so it’s sometimes unclear if the stories echo Cheever’s 1950s or Franzen’s 2000s. A stylistic choice to volley between past and present tense can muddle things, as in “Grace,” where the narrator’s reflection is lost in his present-day circumstance: “Annie finds the edges of her life by having too much to do. Annie keeps sane by scrubbing, even the toilet, and by telling me to aim better.” The use of specific details elevates some stories to memorable tales, as with the charming rapport between a painter and his wife in “Later, That Same Life.” By far, the most successful story is “Barzini To The Rescue,” marked by terrific cultural references to 1950s San Francisco and narrated by a 5-year-old boy whose eccentric aunt and uncle come to visit. If only this vivid and original treatment touched more of the characters. Yet each story comes to its own impressive conclusion, despite the well-worn literary terrain of love and loss.
Storytelling that satisfies but doesn’t dazzle while exploring a familiar literary terrain.