Shoemaker’s debut short story collection ranges in style and acquaints characters with prospects that leave them feeling disenchanted, disturbed, and sometimes changed for the better.
Some stories are purely comedic: A suburban stay-at-home dad keeps an earnest diary of his comings and goings and efforts at attracting his wife; an adult Karate Kid fan writes a come-to-Jesus letter to the Karate Kid himself; a self-aggrandizing fiction writer pens a letter that rejects an editor’s rejection; a trip to a giant Swedish furniture store (Ikea, thinly veiled) takes a turn for the darkly—and hilariously—sci-fi. Other stories are somber: The owner of an architecture firm hires illegal immigrants to save money on office cleaning bills and gets caught; Mormon men struggle to reconcile their attachment to religious values with the harm it inflicts upon self and others; adults reconcile who they’d hoped to be with who they are; a group of cynical, burned-out teachers reckon with the murder of a student. With smart, cleareyed prose, Shoemaker depicts the excessiveness of white, upper-middle-class adulthood. His protagonists have bedroom balconies, BMWs, and strollers that “looked like NASA engineers” designed them, details which are juxtaposed against arresting descriptions of rural poverty. In spite of their shortcomings, these protagonists—white male guidance counselors, lawyers, teachers, Mormons—aren’t dismissible as caricatures. Most are intelligent, conflicted men tortured by their decisions to hurt others in the name of protecting their loved ones or their own lives. Unfortunately, female characters are less nuanced. They are props—interns, mothers, wives, romantic interests—that exist to reveal men to themselves. Still, Shoemaker makes sure that no matter how hard they try, the men here can’t ignore that they, the supposed altruistic ones, often do more harm than good.
A funny, haunting collection that refuses to ward off the “shadow hunting us down.”