Fictional tales of men facing challenges involving fidelity, fatherhood, military service, violence, and athletics.
In this debut collection of 16 stories, Amato presents an array of male narrators who struggle to assert themselves in a variety of contexts. By far, the most effective and memorable tale is “Broken-Bat Single,” which addresses themes of professional baseball, substance abuse, domestic violence, and the rigidity of traditional masculinity. In this standout piece, injured player Johnny “Big Bat” Harker makes the mistake of reading a horror novel while under the influence of painkillers and multiple beers. He dozes off and wakes up startled, sensing an odd presence in the house. He begins to search for an intruder, noticing a subtle change in his surroundings that Amato engagingly describes: “The darkness was eerie to him; not a cricket chirped, and the distant dog that barked nearly every night was mute. The warm, clear evening had turned cooler, more humid, and murky with fog.” Soon Johnny finds that a creature seems to be attacking his wife—and he wonders why it’s so hard to defeat. In a similar vein, the narrator of “Back to Sleep,” a man who’s contemplated committing adultery with a co-worker, fights the urge to fall asleep during a fiery, moralistic sermon that may or may not be directed at him. Other stories feature the musings of a prisoner on death row shortly before his scheduled execution (“The Man Who Didn’t Care”), a trip to San Francisco while on weekend military leave during the Vietnam era (“Second Person, Sixty-Seven”), and a regrettable childhood memory (“Betraying Norman”). However, several pieces seem to be mere writing exercises or slice-of-life narratives, such as “Who Ripped Off My Lunch?” or “Big One-Hearted Tennis.” The latter, for example, recounts in great detail a tennis match that fans of the sport may find compelling, but many other readers may be left wondering what the point of it all was. In contrast, one of the more original works, “Everyone Hates Malvolio,” offers a retelling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night narrated from the perspective of the much-maligned title character.
uneven collection with a few pieces that make it worth a look.