A debut collection offers six wide-ranging short stories on relationships among family, friends, colleagues, and species.
This book covers a vast terrain, exploring numerous styles, settings, and voices. It opens with the very brief “Keeping Busy,” in which Julie, on a smoke break at work, ponders a recent fire that consumed a trailer and man, possibly her co-worker’s brother. She figures the fire started with a cigarette, possibly hers. Julie, her town, and her job all pique interest, but the two-page story is too spare to ground readers or build empathy. “Game Day,” though much longer, has a similar sketchy feel. The story is told by a preschooler, Tommy, who lives with his mother near a large stadium. Tommy is precocious enough to ponder kindergarten and nap simply to improve his mother’s mood, yet seems utterly stymied by the marching band’s instruments at the stadium: “shiny gold funnel shapes” and a “big tummy thing.” A child’s viewpoint is indeed difficult and MacLaurin succeeds in portraying Tommy’s innocence and budding complicity, but the insight isn’t deep enough to create well-rounded characters or necessary tension. “The Greeting” attempts an even more challenging point of view: a dragonfly hoping to welcome two humans, or “Otherkind,” at a lakeshore. While initially confusing, the story shows potential, perhaps as environmental sci-fi. The author hits a stronger stride in “Decision at Camp Ross Trails,” about an eerie Girl Scout camp, and particularly in “Dinner at the Anatevka Grill,” in which a woman shares traditional Russian cuisine and tales of her past with her food critic husband. These characters possess a greater dimension, with their motivations and wants palpable, making the stories believable. “Anatevka Grill” rings true with rich sensory and historical details. The most entertaining story is “Odyssey, with Swine,” the last in the collection. Readers know at the outset where this is headed: a pig will be slaughtered. But they also sense there will be conflict. The narrator’s ensuing “odyssey” aptly pulls the plot—and the pig—toward an inevitable end.
While not perfectly constructed, these stories turn out to be curious, diverse, and enjoyable.