The author of the memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free and the short-fiction collection Brief Encounters with the Enemy returns with a new set of stories about people contending with internal struggles amid larger, often invisible, economic, political and racial forces of American society.
... another arresting collection of stories fronted by embattled male protagonists. If it doesn't see him branching out and exploring new territory, it at least consolidates his reputation as a skilled writer with a talent for creating flawed and beleaguered characters and plumbing their emotional depths ... No stories have cut-and-dried conclusions. Some have legs and could have kept on running. Two are markedly strange ... It pays not to ask questions. Instead, just surrender to the raw power and offbeat charm of these expertly wrought tales.
Sayrafiezadeh’s reality quivers seemingly months away from our own. It hinges on the recent White House administrations, which looms eerily in the background of each story’s narrative ... Sayrafiezadeh crafts this world with subtle hands, employing a first-person perspective throughout to give characters a sense of isolation. They seem different and desperate, like they can almost get out but fail to liberate themselves from an ever-narrowing presence of social and governmental systems that permeate their everyday ... The estrangement in America that Sayrafiezadeh describes is one near to our current reality. The isolation his characters try escaping or accept within burgeoning socio-political structures feels just around the corner, a stutter step we’re taking before the next volley of the American experience hits while we dredge on, most of us unaware of the increasing degrees from the center of power. The collection uncovers the illusion of progress in America, like the celebrity we never quite see make it down the mountain but swear we do.
... excellent ... [Sayrafiezadeh] writes with a veteran’s swagger and discipline. Nothing here feels obligatory or tossed off; instead, the collection joins a list that includes Leonard Michaels’s I Would Have Saved Them if I Could, Lorrie Moore’s Like Life and Charles D’Ambrosio’s The Dead Fish Museum as a second book of stories that exceeds and expands upon the promise of the first, confirming the writer as a major, committed practitioner of a difficult form.