Failed, failing and just-might-make-it romantic relationships are analyzed with disarming wit and understated compassion in this debut collection of 13 stories.
The terrain is contemporary America, from Boston to the Arizona desert, with stops in between at quotidian neighborhood gatherings, summer crafts fairs, Florida’s beaches and motels—and all the forgettable places where lonely people meet, briefly connect and sometimes remember fondly as sites that became foundations for long-desired life changes. The technique emerges vividly in plaintive miniatures, which present the incompatibility of two strangers who carry too much emotional baggage to generate energy needed to come together (“A Story About Two Prisoners”); and a late-night encounter that dramatizes “the copulation waltz of the divorced and depressed, one of America’s favorite dances.” Elsewhere, and with varying degrees of success, we meet an itinerant candlemaker whose brief fling with a randy married woman promises, but cannot deliver, a chance and a reason to settle down (“Beaching It”); a nervous fiancé who cannot shield his gentle Indian-born girlfriend from his unstable sister’s malicious meddling (“Meeting Grace”); and—in an echo of a famous John Cheever story—an academic plodder discouraged from attaining professional or romantic fulfillment by the inhibiting accomplishments and demeanor of his brilliant older brother (“Faster”). Wingate’s raw, probing stories are distinguished by the precision with which they identify our perverse disinclination to do what we know is best for us—but limited by redundant plots, characterizations and moods of weary resignation (think Richard Yates). But the author achieves stunning effects in stories focused on an expectant couple’s conflicting reactions to discovering an unknown family’s belongings buried on their property (“Inside the Hole”); an overcautious paralegal’s failure to choose his own life over the power of that exerted by a dignified widower (“Bill”); and a weak-willed composer’s inability to deserve the bereaved woman who might have allowed him to share her recaptured life (“Knuckles”).
Strongly imagined, often deeply moving fiction from a gifted writer who seems to know us better than we know ourselves.