Hughes’s deep dive into its characters is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s close study of her Bloomsbury denizens, or J.D. Salinger’s psychological probings of the Glass family. Regarding her resources of art and craft, Hughes is just as masterful ... Hughes doles out details deftly; nothing is incidental ... Hughes is an honest but modulated storyteller ... Hughes’s storytelling strategy can be angular and demanding; she often asks readers to make connections based on very oblique evidence. For those willing to play psychological detective, the rewards are bountiful ... The Ocean House is a collection so varied in its telling, rich in its details, and character-divining that it demands to be reread — and not simply to keep its portraits of lost souls straight (though there is that). Her penetrating glimpses into the depths of these lives make us more deeply aware of our own.
The short stories in Mary-Beth Hughes’ collection The Ocean House are linked, not by the titular manse [...] but, tentatively, by people. The central character in one story will show up, obliquely, in the next ... It can be an effective technique. Is it universally effective here? Unfortunately, no, though it succeeds often enough that the reader wants it to be better ... Hughes’ literary gifts are obvious. Although she eschews quotation marks, she has a great ear for the way people talk, and the stories are rich in their construction, full of the little details that add up to a life. But many are difficult and not very accessible ... If you read just one of these stories in a magazine, you’d want to find the collection that houses it. But many of the tales begin in obscurity and never fully emerge ... More straightforward story telling would bring some of these stories to vibrant life. Hughes clearly has the talent to create a memorable collection.
Hughes deftly sets in motion a Rube Goldberg–like collection of stories in which a single character from one tale trips a connection to another. The links are often obscure ... Figuring out the links makes the whole book feel like a fascinating puzzle ... Rich with detail and unexpected phrasing, Hughes’ prose illuminates her dark emotional terrain. Grief-stricken yet beautiful portraits of fractured lives.
... arresting ... With an enviable ear for dialogue and high command of prose, Hughes finds in these overlapping stories a stark beauty amid scenes of suffering and death ... Hughes is a careful reader of her characters, and she captures their small, easy-to-miss moments of humanity through life’s vicissitudes. These stories pack a punch.