A debut collection of clever, deftly written stories, by an author who’s appeared in such places as the Kenyon Review, North American Review, and the Missouri Review.
The 14 tales exhibit a refreshing variety of types—male and female, young and old, beautiful and ugly—but Hamel’s favorite is the modest 30-something who realizes that his or her view of the world remains as confused as it was in childhood. In “The Nemesis,” a shy white-collar worker finds herself drawn to the office’s resident “asshole,” having daily lunches with him for reasons she can’t explain. “Go” presents a 35-year-old heroine whose mother depends on kitsch to liven up their relationship, and the two of them jokingly (but eerily) treat an inflatable doll modeled on Munch’s The Scream as if it were a baby. The title character of “Myra” is an older woman who, trying to prevent future women from being named Myra, brings two other elderly Myras into her life. Hamel delights in shrewd understatement, and her resolutions are often subtle and mysterious. In simple but artful language, she presents a wealth of witty observations on her characters. In “The Years in Review,” a married couple “disdained divorce as unimaginative and overidealistic—tacky American, like Lotto or hair transplants.” The heroine of “The Nemesis” understands that her father “seemed to enjoy sailing, but what he really enjoyed was humiliating pretenders to the nautical lifestyle.” In “Toys,” a woman thinks of her husband, “He was more or less the same man she’d met ten years before in a porta-potty line outside a Metallica concert.” But comic observation isn’t the only show here; Hamel’s characters are often wounded, sometimes stranded, and she invokes powerful sympathy for them. Her subtly comic tone recalls Lorrie Moore, who’s also shown that she can make exceptional stories from middling ideas.
There’s some inconsistency here—the opening tale in particular seems subpar—but, still, this is an auspicious beginning for a very talented writer.