The central characters in Straub’s first short story collection are almost all on the cusp of epiphanies that take them by surprise: they need to change, to leave or (more rarely) stay, and change in ways they didn’t anticipate. Straub has a fine and economical eye for telling detail, a good ear for naturalistic dialogue, and an almost eerie grasp of late-stage relationship dynamics. My favorite story was probably “Abraham’s Enchanted Forest,” partly because it vividly reminded me of a run-down highway-side amusement park near where I grew up.
Taken all together, there’s a slightly hermetic quality to these stories: many of the characters seem to be approaching the same decision from slightly different directions defined by their respective circumstances. The stories that seem like they might be farthest from Straub’s direct experience seem perhaps a shade too much like reasonable extrapolation from the known, without many of the startling details that real life provides. But all in all this is a very promising set of stories. I’m definitely looking forward to Straub’s debut novel this fall.
needs more demons? no.