This installment: short stories featuring authentic voices of losers (f); a clever mystery in which the author and the main character consult with each other (f), and what happens when people know the date of their death in advance (f).
Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller
Short stories about a bunch o’ losers, told plainly as if the tales are coming straight from them. (A good trick.) Broke, bad habits, bad choices. Why did I hang out with them on the page? Horror-fascination, prurient interest, and many are touching despite their maladaptions. Two tales that stuck with me: on a cruise with the parents of the loser boyfriend. They don’t like her, quarters are too close, they’re supposed to be having fun but it’s so painful. And the white woman who works in a home for transient kids. She’s dedicated to Diamond, a very difficult black child she knows won’t get a permanent placement. Authentic voices.
Broken by Karen Fossum
Billed as a mystery but more like a psychological thriller in my book. The writer’s cast of characters has lined up, waiting for her to tell their stories. A non-prepossessing fellow jumps the queue— he’s driven. She acquiesces reluctantly, bestows a name, Arval, and a profession and then constructs his journey into life and growth. He’s a bachelor, works in a gallery, is timid, wants to be in control but also yearns for more. Into his life comes a young female drug addict. He befriends her, thinking he’s a good person, and of course it gets gnarly unto death. Chapters shift between his developing story and the consultations he and the writer have. Somehow this all works and I came to love the little world Fossum created.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
What if you knew the date of your death in advance? Well the four Gold siblings find out early on, via a fortune teller on the Lower East Side. That knowledge certainly shapes and tweaks their lives. After their stern patriarch drops dead, Klara and Simon flee to San Francisco instead of sticking around to support the family business and their grieving mother. Klara wants to pursue her passion, magic. Simon, at 16, wants to pursue his, men. Dutiful, resentful Daniel steps up and becomes a doctor. The oldest, Vasra, is a research assistant with OCD, a fear of intimacy, and a dark secret. Issues of god, death, religion and freedom will get a workout. Vivid, thought-provoking, and a great story besides.
Back next week.