Fourteen delightful debut stories more often than not about man’s powerlessness in the face of feminine beauty.
“What we want is the glib aria of disastrous love, which is, finally, the purest expression of self-contempt,” Almond tells us, though the range of love taken up here suggests that another part of him knows better. In the title story, a young man who covers heavy metal bands for a local newspaper learns of humanity’s necessary failures when he discovers his own propensity for betrayal. “Among the Ik” is a touching tale of an academic’s grief and impending mortality told through the retold story of his having once been called upon to identify the body of a student. “The Last Single Days of Don Viktor Potapenko” features a lewd but oddly wise barfly in pre-casino Atlantic City who passes his weird wisdom onto our slumming teenaged narrator; and in “Geek Player, Love Slayer,” a woman’s fascination with a dimwitted officemate becomes a modern anti-love story and a catalogue of all the MTV turns of phrase most would find artless. A boy in “Valentino” fails to come of age but succeeds in learning something of small-town romance, while “The Pass” is an anthropologically toned multicharacter treatment of the traditional sloppy initiation of affection, and “How to Love a Republican” is a love story set during the Bush-Gore election debacle. Almond is at his best when emotion moves his plots and not the other way around, but even his misses are better than most first-time authors’ hits. There may be occasional repetitiveness to overcome, and the kinds of sex here may repel some, but more important is Almond’s realization that in all love stories “There is a point you reach, I mean, when you are just something bad that happened to someone else.”
Love, or at least sex, everywhere in dirty brilliances that are set amid merely lewd victories.