The nine stories gathered here have appeared, scattered across two decades, in the most prestigious American outlets for short fiction; they make for a remarkably unified and consistent collection.
That’s in part due to the fact that Dybek is a writer whose characteristic subjects (especially erotic love and the twinned joy and scourge of nostalgia) and settings (especially Chicago) have remained startlingly consistent—perhaps “obsessive” would be more accurate—over the decades of his career. Impressively, those themes have retained their holds on his imagination for the most part without hardening into tics or devolving into tiredness. A few of these stories—most notably the volume’s longest piece, “Four Deuces,” and “The Caller”—don’t quite take fire, but others rank with the best of Dybek’s excellent body of work. Among the conspicuous successes are a few fictions—the title story, “Oceanic” and “Tosca”—in which Dybek employs a loose-limbed, digressive structure akin to that of a tone poem. He does so not only without sacrificing narrative momentum, but in a way that, surprisingly, quickens and reinvigorates that momentum. At times, these stories read almost as parodies of the au courant in American fiction: “Paper Lantern” starts with a flamboyant frame featuring a time machine and a fire and then doubles back, for fully three-quarters of its length, to Dybek’s beloved old territory and mode…to a richly detailed and sexually charged memory of decades before. It's a reverie that constitutes and provides its own—and Dybek’s preferred—sort of time travel.
A very fine book from a gifted practitioner of the short story form.