In "Great Uncle Edward," a family gathers for dinner. At ninety-three, Great Uncle Edward commands the table in his three-piece suit; Cousin Russell attended both Harvard and Yale but is now reduced to selling off the family books; sisters Betty and Molly are caught between ghosts of a storied past and creeping destitution. These lives are signposts along the downward spiral of an old aristocracy. "Cleveland Auto Wrecking" introduces Sam White, an immigrant from eastern Europe. He cannot read but has a gift for math and an instinct for the value of junk. We follow his clan through the Depression to the postwar boom in the West, where their fortunes soar, creating new tests of loyalty. Taken together, these two novellas might be the reverse images of the American dream in the 20th century. They ask to what degree, in the face of such powerful forces as love, death, and social constraints, do any of us have control over our own lives.
Two families reflect the yin and yang of the American dream, their ascendancy and decline writ large in minute details in paired tales ... Shorr summons the works of Anne Tyler as she rejoices in her characters’ day-to-day experiences, dropping pearls of insight into crystalline vignettes. Her characters are more recognizable than remote, their struggles more mundane than mighty, evoking sympathy while challenging assumptions. The novella format can be a thorny one to embrace, either too short or too long. In Shorr’s hands, it is just right.
Shorr proves herself a literary mimic of the first order with these two pitch-perfect stories ... The author cleverly juxtaposes how one aspect of American society falls as another rises, and both novellas have a novellike density of detail and depth of characterization. Together, they offer rich rewards.
The two novellas that make up Shorr’s lovely new book describe the falling, in one, and, in the other, the rising fortunes of two American families ... In both pieces, Shorr takes the long view, describing years—decades, sometimes—within a single paragraph. In the first piece, this strategy works well ... horr’s prose is fluid and supple, and the story has a lively movement. The second piece, however, about the White family, becomes bogged down in places ... Still, her insights are so keen, and her storytelling so elegant and natural, it would be easy to follow her down just about any train of thought. With its neat corners and tidily resolved patterns, this book is a quiet accomplishment.