The romantic, bizarre, and sometimes murderous underpinnings of seemingly drab suburban lives are deftly revealed in ten densely written tales..
Mackay’s distinctive trick of inhabiting multiple points of view in even comparatively brief compass gives her stories an arresting and wonderfully tangled texture, and her vivid confrontational style is richly seasoned by spectacularly acute and amusing sidelong observations (e.g., a neighborhood busybody is “a pillar or something smaller, such as a hassock, of a local evangelical church”; a tarty young woman’s bold countenance is like “a cat’s, who rubs up against your legs while knowing there is a dead bird behind the sofa”). The terrors of domesticity are memorably skewered in the edgy title piece, about an unwelcome relative’s return “home” from Hong Kong and the resumption of his poisonous effect on his brother’s family; “The Last Sand Dance,” in which a faded actress and a failed playwright compulsively erode the flimsy fabric of their loveless marriage; and especially “Barbarians,” a withering portrayal of a “serial adulterer” complacent in his own (fourth) marriage of convenience, casually exploiting all the children he produces and encounters. Larger “worlds” are explored in a savage lampoon of pompous aging-male bonding (“The Wilderness Club”); the tale of a lonely shopgirl victimized—and moved to vengeance—by a loathsome molester (“A Silver Summer”); and the superbly imagined “The Day of the Gecko,” which features a woman editor whose fixation on a Bruce Chatwin–like writer-traveler blossoms into a fever dream fantasy complete with wickedly funny allusions to Tennessee Williams’s Night of the Iguana.
In recent years, several important critics have suggested that Scottish author Mackay (The Artist’s Window, 1999, etc.) is one of Great Britain’s, if not the world’s, best writers. This fifth brilliant and exciting collection shows us exactly why they think so.