Aging, estrangement, generational conflict, sexual rivalry, irrational violence—oh, and the destruction of the world as we know it: these are the recurring themes explored with mordant comic finesse in 16 exuberantly in-your-face stories.
The predilection for daft high-concept premises displayed in such previous collections as Boyle's If the River Was Whiskey (1989) is still very much in evidence: a female triathlete’s couch-potato boyfriend works out his hidden resentments (“She Wasn’t Soft”); a divorced bartender succumbs to the charms of his nubile neighbors, a houseful of college girls whose intimate moments are broadcast for Internet subscribers (“Peep Hall”); and scattered survivors in a brave new world decimated by an Ebola-like virus reenact the idyll shared by Adam and Eve, complicated ever so slightly by the presence of an angry Other Woman (the lively title story). Boyle gives us his own jaded takes on familiar literary classics—Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano is amusingly skewered in “Mexico,” and “The Black and White Sisters” impudently echoes William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”—and rewrites a lurid real-life tabloid story of several years ago in “The Love of My Life.” Feckless under-40s undergo farcical comeuppances in such haven’t-we-been-here-before productions as “Killing Babies,” “Death of the Cool,” and “Termination Dust.” Most interestingly, there’s a repeated focus on middle-aged and older protagonists rudely awakened to grim evidence of their failing powers and inescapable mortality—as witness to the stroke victim who lies undiscovered in his backyard even after his wife stumbles to his aid (“Rust”), the aging novelist who tries and fails to reconcile with his resentful estranged son (“Achates McNeil”), and the ghost who watches sorrowfully as his surviving spouse grows ever further distanced from reality (“My Widow”).
A bit darker and harsher, perhaps, than earlier collections, but on the whole pretty much the same kind of thing this writer has been cranking out since the late ’70s. If you like Boyle, you won’t be able to resist.