Ranging across the continent, from Alaska to Missouri, from the flatlands to the mountains, each tale is a snapshot of the political, racial, and sexual undercurrents roiling contemporary life, and each finds a way into the nerves and blood that pulse beneath the question of how to live a decent life.
Taut and propulsive ... Everyone here is on the edge of some kind of cliff, and McLean unsentimentally renders their various precipices with incredible energy and humor ... Dark comedy ... Grotesque, morally unsettling and entertaining, all at once ... She holds each character up to the bright interrogatory light of her observations ... Her prose moves with muscle and rhythm, the dialogue swift and captivating. Story lines occasionally opt — some more successfully than others — for a dreamlike space that collapses time and expands metaphor. If at times the endings don’t quite develop the movement of certain stories as much as they could, then it’s the sentence-by-sentence motor that pushes us forward ... McLean keeps us guessing about whom to root for and when, swerving her stories and reshaping our sympathies in a paragraph.
... exquisitely nasty tales ... The characters eloquently philosophize about their predicaments, but that makes their fates no less savage, only more absurd ... The finest stories return to the inexplicable family hatreds that galvanized Pity the Beast.
McLean writes at times with the hyper-keen vividness of nightmare: not surrealism but a kind of American expressionism, like a darker, gristlier Donald Barthelme – grotesque, comic and unsettling ... By working beyond the familiar artificialities of realism, McLean creates dense and memorable pictures of American life that are intensely and oddly real. Some themes or objects – a cat that lives in a pond, a pterodactyl out of time – are perhaps not meant to be read metaphorically, but as talismans of instability and mystery.