In Giles’ (Great Heats, 2011, etc.) short stories, generations of a deeply rooted New England family battle good and evil.
This set of eight stories ranges from creepy encounters in a strip club to the revelation of a centuries-old curse and the effect of that curse on one man. Using a unique approach to the genre, each of these tales revolves around a particular family in one moment of time. Some stories are more successful than others. The first two, “The New Playroom” and “Sally,” feel somewhat bizarre. In the first, a man witnesses a shooting in a strip club and has a strange arm-wrestling match with a tattooed ex-con. Though it becomes apparent much later that this opening story anticipates a central character’s downfall, on its own it seems incomplete. The same holds true for “Sally.” A man receives a call from a woman he hasn’t seen for years and drops everything to visit her. In a somewhat painful soap-opera–like scene, he comforts the divorcee with a fumbling massage that leads to an affair. The flat tale conveys the awkwardness of uncertain attraction but feels irresolute. “Grandmother Jackie,” however, grabs attention with realistic characters and potent dramatic tension. Jackie, an old woman who has expertly recorded her family’s genealogical record, reveals that the Porter family was cursed in the 1600s. Porter men suffer either from bizarre accidents or poor decisions that lead to their demise. Later stories build on “Grandmother Jackie” to good effect. As a whole, however, a weak start, particularly the first story’s confusing connection to later plotlines, diminishes the collection’s impact.
An intriguing, if uneven, collection of unnerving short stories.