Quirky, beautifully crafted short stories.
Almond has an eye for the unconventional and singular. The title story in the collection introduces us to Billy Clamm, who accidentally shows up at a drama course when he was trying to enroll in a tax-preparation course entitled Loopholes Ahoy! But it turns out Billy takes readily to acting, even though the immediate pragmatic effect of this course is to land him a job as a Boston Tea Party reenactor. He also becomes enamored with the actor’s prerogative to change his name, so by the end he reinvents himself as William Aubergine and almost literally rides off into the sunset. In “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched,” analyst Dr. Raymond Oss has a weakness for playing poker—and then gets a referral for Gary “Card” Sharpe, 2003 winner of the World Series of Poker, a patient who’s dealing (pun intended) rather cynically with the psychological detritus of his father. Almond ends the story with a high-stakes game that develops between the reckless doctor and the shrewd professional gambler. “Shotgun Wedding” introduces us to Carrie, who unexpectedly discovers she’s pregnant by long-distance boyfriend/fiancé Brian. Carrie hopes for a glimmer of enthusiasm from Brian, but instead of the smile she wants to imagine him having on hearing the news, all she senses is his panic. Almond saves his creepiest moments for “The Darkness Together,” in which a mother and son experience the innuendoes and depredations of a slick and disturbing companion as they travel by train from Buffalo to Toledo. Their train compartment becomes achingly claustrophobic in the company of this unwelcome stranger.
Almond’s stories range from the hilarious to the poignant—and he’s able to strike almost every note in between.