Seven debut stories reach beyond their grasp.
One concerns an author who writes about a man losing his wallet just as a “significant nuclear exchange between two nation states” is pending. The “author” examines his options and ends up “casually deciding to liquidate tens of millions of Indians and Pakistanis in a story that’s really about a guy losing his wallet.” As with most of Hasak-Lowy’s tales, the concept is greater than the result. The title piece is the best realized. There, a bumbling translator is hired by an eastern European who has called a family reunion, and, through a hilarious series of miscommunications, the translator gradually realizes that his employer’s goal is to convince his relatives that he’s not a murderer of the worst sort. In “Will Power, Inc.,” a journalist joins Don; Don’s employee, Peter; and two friends for dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley. Don eats little at first, but when dessert comes, he grabs Peter’s spoon and digs in—until Peter takes the spoon back by force. Peter’s job, it turns out, is to keep Don from overeating (for a six-month fee of $120,000). The journalist decides to write an article about Will Power, Inc., hooks up with a diet escort, and begins a battle of wills that leads to mayhem. Again, the premise is fresh and funny, but the story reads like a badly written article, with tedious footnotes and a vague ending. “On the Grounds of the Complex Commemorating the Nazis’ Treatment of the Jews” offers similar problems. The narrator is a failed Israeli journalist working as cashier at the Jerusalem complex commemorating the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews (a phrase that’s repeated throughout). For reasons that are never clear, the cashier attacks an American Jewish tourist who complains about the staleness of the baked goods.
Brightly imagined, disappointingly realized.