An interrelated series of close-hewn, stark, and sensitive first-person tales set in Reading, Pennsylvania, New York City, and the West.
In two parts of five and six segments, respectively, Wilson Hues, a restless young man without a fixed residence, companion, or life’s purpose, grapples with ordinary but potentially perilous hurdles on his journey into manhood: the breakup of his early conflicted marriage, the death by burning accident of his abusive father, the later death of a girlfriend from cancer. Each “story” is prefaced by a short, painful, and unlovely reference to Wilson’s childhood or youth, such as “The night my father moved away he fought his oldest son,” or “My friend Travis’s parents had been stabbed.” These straightforward short pieces, titled and sometimes only a paragraph long, create an accumulative gravitas that sets the tone for the longer tales and alerts the reader to Wilson’s state of emotional susceptibility. In “Roaches,” the first and most powerful story, Wilson and his wife Melody, a rape counselor, watch their marriage disintegrate while there’s also an invasion of roaches into their Manhattan apartment. A woman whom Wilson has invited up to the infested apartment hints at the horror she witnesses there—and at the narrator’s morbid creepiness. Indeed, as Wilson, in the later “Beauty Queen,” describes his early college courtship of Melody, it isn’t entirely clear whether he has helped redeem her or has caused her eventual self-mutilation. Wilson himself confirms our suspicions of his shaky ambivalence in the chilling eponymous tale, in which he and girlfriend Alethea, her cancer in remission, prowl around their Reading home at night after hearing noises: “I realized that she understood me to be what she had been fearing.”
A strong debut from a writer who can whittle experiences to the quick.