Mosberg’s (In the Shadows of Canyon Road, 2015) collection offers a series of mostly tragic stories set at different points in history.
David, the journalist protagonist of the opening tale, “A Bad Idea,” wants to write a story on the sex trade in Thailand. But a sudden trip to another country could wreck his already strained relationship with his girlfriend, Bridget. The people in Mosberg’s tales often confront weighty, impending changes, such as a professional boxer facing the possible end of his career (“Carmine’s Fight”). Other times, they must learn to cope with distress: a man’s beloved wife battles cancer in “Douglas and Louise,” while Geoff Coleman in “Traveling Companion” decides on his next course of action after a doctor diagnoses him with an inoperable brain tumor. Mosberg’s concise prose fosters lucid imagery, such as a young man sitting at the bedside of his dying father, who’s “smoothing his son’s hair, which had been dutifully cut a few inches shorter only minutes before” (“Siblings”). But the author truly excels at creating distinctive characters and settings: in one tale, a cop’s simple excursion to the supermarket in “The Organist” takes a devastating turn, and real-world historical events, including the Vietnam War, play crucial roles in others. Even occasional sci-fi or supernatural elements are made relatable and familiar; for instance, in “Copies,” set in the mid-22nd century, a man endures a monotonous conversation with a sales rep just so he can order new technology. Also among the 31 yarns is a police procedural (“Hidden”) and a tale of an archaeological dig (“Transparent”) with uncanny, if predictable, results. In a collection filled with strong emotion, the standout tale is the rather lighthearted “The Plan,” in which hapless Harlan, who can’t hold a job, concocts a scheme involving a rich widow that isn’t likely to go the way that he hopes.
Often engrossing tales of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.