Past traumas bleed into present experiences in Lippmann’s stark, occasionally enigmatic debut collection.
A divorced slacker dad, good in his teenage son’s eyes only for beer runs and his not-too-attentive chaperonage of a ski trip, remains haunted by the car crash that killed his best friend (“The Last Resort”). Ten years after her toddler brother fell into an empty swimming pool and died before her eyes, the narrator of “Everyone Has Your Best Interests at Heart” is still punishing herself, listlessly going through the motions in a dead-end summer job, with no plans now that she’s graduated high school, and taking up with the vaguely creepy host of a reptile show. Parenthood only brings more woe; in both “Jew” and “All This Happiness,” thoughts of their terminally ill babies shadow the protagonists’ actions. The settled moms of “Body Scan” and “Reunion” seem nostalgic for their wild, pre-kid days, while the embittered divorcée of “Doll Palace” says of her once-adored ex, “[e]veryone falls short in real life.” Lippmann writes well about damaged lives and ambivalent relationships, and she displays a knack for crafting mildly surreal scenarios that reveal the characters’ fragile emotional states (“Starter Home,” “Talisman”). She also has a weakness for abruptly ringing down the curtain on her stories with jarring developments left ostentatiously unexplained (“The Best of Us,” “Queen of Hearts,” “Babydollz”). This taste for obfuscation is balanced by sharp observations of the social landscape: The mother crankily guiding two girls through endless lines at Doll Palace, the “overpriced and unopposed retailer of all things doll,” or the restless wife attending the funeral of a high school boyfriend, passing “identical stucco townhomes with plastic play yards out front where apparently half of the entire class lived and screwed each other and worked to make ends meet.”
Smart and technically accomplished fiction that is sometimes a bit too self-consciously artful.