Ten stories cast an unsparing yet tender eye on the human condition.
The death or impending loss of a loved one drives every narrative in this poignant collection. Jack Snyder’s daughter Lila, blinded at six in a freak accident, is now 17 and poised for independence, but he’s not really ready to give up being “The Guide” as he takes her to choose a dog. Claire lost her beloved husband to cancer when she was 36; three years later, she clings to grief so tenaciously that she loses Kevin, the good man who loves her. The author so warmly draws shell-shocked Claire and faithful Kevin that we hope for a happier resolution beyond the last page of “Pine,” but in this collection mistakes are mostly irrevocable. Jeremy’s bitter response to an incident of teenage recklessness destroyed his marriage and his relationship with his daughter before “A Country Where You Once Lived” begins, and a visit after 13 years of estrangement merely underscores that ex-wife Cathleen and daughter Zoe have an intimacy based partly on his exclusion. Jeremy’s new love for the much-younger Rose offers hope that fresh starts are possible—“wishes made correctly do come true,” asserts the title character in “Harriet Elliot.” But note that caveat, and people seldom do things correctly here. The collection’s most wrenching piece, the title story, is a monologue by a woman whose arrogant young neighbor builds a six-foot-tall wall on their mutual property line. He doesn’t care that it forces her to park 20 feet from her door, a long way for a woman dying of cancer, or that her devastated husband is trying to figure out how to break the news to their brain-damaged, institutionalized son. Neither Black nor her characters have any use for “the fantasy of putting things to rights,” or “the myth of uncomplicated lives.” Yet there is redemption in finding the courage to love and the wisdom to see clearly.
Sensitive insights conveyed in elegantly plain prose—an auspicious debut.