Young, often queer characters search unsuccessfully for solace in this debut collection of stories.
In the award-winning title story of Joffre’s book, the narrator, Gemma, has fallen for her brother’s bride-to-be, Sydney. The two women are carrying on a secret sexual affair—but only when Sydney is sleepwalking. Miserable on the day of the wedding, Gemma remembers their encounters: “I think part of me has always believed love should be like this—painful and hidden, only making itself known when you least expect it and are unprepared for the damage it can do.” Again and again, Joffre’s stories bear out this sentiment. In the collection’s opener, “Nitrate Nocturnes,” all people are born with timers in their wrists that count down how many years they have left before meeting their soul mates—but what happens when a glitch means one soul mate is ready for a relationship before the other? In “I’m Unarmed,” an adolescent girl being molested by her male cousin, and navigating her first same-sex romance, leaves town after a violent attack on her abuser. In “Weekend,” two avant-garde actors filming a long-running television show blur the lines between their real lives and those of their characters. The circumstances here are bleak: Men in the book are either oblivious or outright violent, but the women are rarely able to sustain more than fleeting comfort with each other. This hopelessness is underscored by a kind of narrative blurriness: Details in the stories get attention and then are abandoned, while seemingly crucial moments of motive or interiority are missing. The result is that the stories trap readers in a kind of disconcerting dream—by the time they're over, we feel a vague sense of melancholy without being quite sure why.
Joffre’s ideas are vibrant, but a lack of development mutes the book’s effect.