From a newlywed caught in an inscrutable marriage, to private eyes working a baffling case in South Florida, to a teenager who assists her magician mother and steals from the audience, the characters in these stories are at once vulnerable and dangerous, bighearted and ruthless, and they will do what it takes to survive.
All the women in this collection are uncertain observers, hyperaware yet unable to divine meaning until it’s too late ... Thankfully, the realistic doesn’t carry much cachet in these stories. Wonder and mystery are recurring motifs. The women here are one step ahead of disaster or one step behind it, and either way they are eager to discover what’s next ... Van den Berg, in this wonderful collection, never lets us turn away.
It's a small book, but it feels much bigger. I could have kept reading for days ... In a way, each one is a detective story, sometimes literally and sometimes not. The main character is always a youngish woman, trying to figure out what the hell happened to her life ... There are one or two duds in here. When you can tell van den Berg spent more effort writing than storytelling, they become a little brittle. But after the first story, when the book gets rolling, she's completely on her game ... Plenty of authors write with this sort of detachment. It can be divisive ... But for those of us who do love them, Laura van den Berg is a new name to add to the list.
In the meantime, readers looking for a fresh, emotive and darkly comic take on the modern US and its problems will be highly satisfied with this short collection ... Comparisons to Alice Munro and Lorrie Moore are well founded, with van den Berg’s poignant and funny stories laying bare vulnerabilities in even the most horrible of characters ... Humour is seen throughout the collection, lightening the sombre themes of loss, loneliness, neglect, marital dysfunction and despair ... Van den Berg keeps the reader guessing with twists that seem at once absurd but highly apt for the emotional traumas her characters undergo ... Such burning holes are evident in all of the protagonists in this collection, a vibrant and memorable bunch shouting out in pleasure and pain.