(pb; 2001: story anthology)
Chaon captures well the emotional fragilities and curious minitiae of his characters' lives and surroundings; there's a quiet, underlying confidence to the writing, though a few of the stories come off as half-baked, with limp endings that just don't work.
Recommended, with the aforementioned reservations.
Review, story by story:
“Safety Man”: Sandi, a widow, struggles to deal with her husband's recent death, and the fears it raises within her. Her semi-disconnection from the world around her (she's steady, functional in daily life) is reflected in the emotionally-removed tone and exact language of the piece. Solid, this.
“I Demand To Know Where You're Taking Me”: Decent tale about a woman who's offended by the foul-mouthed presence of her brother-in-law's macaw (her brother-in-law is in jail, convicted of rape). The ending, while not completely abstract, is too oblique and inconsequential to be effective.
“Big Me”: Strange, warm-fuzzy entry about an imaginative child who grows up to be an imaginative man. Reminiscent, tone-wise, of Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird in some spots.
“Prodigal”: A young father ruminates on the dark and sometimes sentimental intricacies of the parent-child relationship, and the vagaries of perception that develop over time. Tragic, introspective and insightful: one of my favorite stories in this collection.
“Passengers, Remain Calm”: A man (Hollis) tries to fill the void left by his supposedly more-reliable brother (Wayne) when Wayne disappeared, leaving behind an eight-year old son (F.D.) and a wife (Jill). Focused on F.D. And Hollis's relationship, this is another introspective dream-piece, exploring the notions of self, and one's role in the world. Sublime pleasure, this.
“The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Animal Kingdom”: Half-baked tale about a sperm donor who ponders possible children he might have fathered, and what appears to be an otherwise empty life. A vague, unsatisfying ending further ruins the tale.
“Among the Missing”: A suicide-murder prompts a man (Sean) to wonder about his mother's suppressed inner life, certain family traumas, and the nature of relationships between the sexes. Masterful pseudo-twist finish. One of my favorite stories in this collection.
“Prosthesis”: A woman considers alternate lives and other lovers she might have known, had she not wound up with her real-life husband. Her alternate thoughts are salted with memories of another real-life ex-lover as well. Beautifully emotive and prose-transcendent, it's marred by an abrupt, ambiguous (and thrill-less) denouement.
“Here's A Little Something To Remember Me By”: Decent, semi-creepy tale about a man (Tom) who's forced to constantly remember a childhood friend (Ricky), who disappeared when they were fourteen years old. Predictable, disturbing (it deals with sexual perversion), with an effective title that's meaning-laden.
“Late For The Wedding”: Trent, a bartender in his mid-twenties, is living with Dorrie, who was once his college instructor (before he dropped out). Now, her raw-humored son (David), who's a couple of years younger than Trent, is coming to visit, and it's stressing Trent and Dorrie out – will their affair survive David's visit?
Solid work, that builds towards an equally-solid, if expected, finish.
“Falling Backwards”: An emotionally-distant woman's life is viewed in an episodic, first-person narrative from age forty-nine to age seven. Good story, with an ending that simultaneously foreshadows and looks back.
“Burn With Me”: A young punk rocker and his forty-two year old father revisit the father's hometown, and relatives who live there. The writing, as always, is solid, but the tale runs longer than it should.