A short story collection that explores its characters’ sensibilities with delicacy and precision.
Of these 12 stories, seven have been previously published, and two received Pushcart Prize nominations. Taylor (Everything to Do with You, 2010) sets his tales mostly in San Francisco, often among 20-somethings struggling to make it as they navigate relationships, work, and life’s alarums and excursions. The opening story, “Flight and Weightless,” is particularly successful: two young people were once a couple, but Maria stayed in Spokane, Washington, when the narrator returned to San Francisco. Now she’s dying of cancer, and he’s helping her fulfill a last wish—to push a grand piano onto a frozen lake so she can play it: “Thick spots [on the ice] sound like a chandelier reuniting with the ground.” In that sentence, everything depends on the unexpected but perfect “reuniting”—the chandelier’s fall (or the piano’s, or Maria’s) isn’t a disaster but a reunion. Taylor often achieves his lapidary style through similarly unexpected but fitting conjunctions; in the same story, the narrator wonders, “Who coined winter wonderland? Were they not aware of hypothermia and giving up, and goddamn Spokane?” The “and” phrases, as they move from the general to the particular (from cold weather to one couple’s breakup), nicely mirror how people personalize disaster. Some quirks, such as Taylor’s frequent interest in fingers and toes, add a surreal touch to these stories. The author seems aware of the danger that such a style can devolve into preciousness or portentousness, and in “Depluralize the Pair” he both enacts and criticizes this dynamic. His narrator proclaims, for example, that relationships “always progress or end in ceremonies. Divorce or marriage.” Or death, perhaps, or just tapering off? But if readers become irritated at this 20-something know-it-all narrator, the story subverts the situation by granting him some self-recognition as he gets older, with his knees creaking as he unloads the dryer: “We wanted everything to be art….We finally had to deal with something hard, that wasn’t artsy or youthful or innocent.”
Intelligent, subtle, minimalist stories by a promising young writer.