Intense, complicated short stories about intense, complicated people.
There are no criminals here—only ordinary people who have to live with their own mistakes, which range from schadenfreude to infidelity to burglary to accidental patricide. Each story in Trueblood's (Search Party, 2013, etc.) collection feels like a condensed version of a novel, dense with incident and crowded with fully realized characters. They unfold quickly, with frequent flashbacks and sidelong observations so insightful they are almost distracting. You have to read them carefully, or read them twice, to get the full effect. In "Skylab," a young nurse with a fine husband has an abortion so she can run off with a much older doctor, a respected man with a family of his own. They move to Malaysia to do medical relief and wind up living among tedious expats, people with native servants and a Quran study group. As the story opens, the usual plagues of heat and insects are compounded by the news that the Skylab satellite is about to fall on Asia. All this in 26 pages—and even the dogs are beautifully characterized: "She was starting to miss dogs, the easygoing, confident dogs of home. In contrast to the thin and craven animals here, they seemed, those golden retrievers with waving tails, to have been the kindly guard of everything untroubled and ordinary"; "Dogs here were like endless rings of a telephone you could not answer. The first day one had trotted past her, a female, nude and measled…wearing that beady female look of having something to do." In another favorite, "Sleepover," a grandmother and a Cambodian housekeeper are left to mind a 14th birthday party in an ultramodern lakeside palazzo in Oregon. They have help from one guest's bodyguard, who gets involved when the girls bring out the boys, booze, and pills in the wee hours. This grandmother, who channels Katharine Hepburn when the police arrive, is a terrific character—the widow of a semifamous folksinger, she's no longer close to her daughter and has recently been ditched by her beau for a younger friend. Like so many of Trueblood's characters, she rolls with the punches, which turns out to be a true form of grace.
A seasoned, deeply knowing writer with riches to share.