Lost souls struggle to establish human connection in these short stories from Casimir (Many Happy Returns, 2017).
Casimir’s protagonists are adrift, many of them surviving on the edges of society, grieving. The book’s finale, its only sci-fi entry, epitomizes Casimir’s thematic interests: a nurse addicted to a futuristic memory-aiding device that keeps her sleepwalking through the night crosses paths with a lonely man hired to sabotage her clinic. Several stories prominently feature imagery of dollar bills passed to and from limos: Characters understand that money, class, and race profoundly shape their lives. The collection’s best two stories, “I Love You, Joe” and “Phantom Power,” both star characters navigating a strange new land. In one, whip-smart teenager Joe butts heads with teachers at his new school, where he’s the only black kid in his AP classes. Joe and his mother mourn the loss of his father and their old life back in Detroit. He eventually decides that getting into a prestigious college will fix things but starts to have doubts after realizing how clueless the adults in his life really are. In the other, a mob wife flees her husband and forges a new identity but never forgets that all things are temporary. Too often, these tales spend more time ruminating on the nature of relationships than developing the flesh and bones of those involved in them. In “Marvin’s Dilemma,” a man longs for his lost lover by remembering his mysterious scent, yet the lover himself remains an abstract figure. It’s no coincidence that “I Love You, Joe,” the collection’s standout, is also its only first-person piece. A far less self-consciously “writerly” style means that Joe’s relationships, challenges, and intelligence shine. Contrast Joe’s observation that his new home contains “Appliances that were solid and working and rusted out but only at the bottom, so you had to kneel and use a flashlight to tell,” with the line from title story “Children of the Night”: “Hard and distant, the full moon floats like glass in the pines, making tight circles of the black needles in the trees.”
An ambitious collection whose relatable characters are too often obscured by a remote style.