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Ema was in a bad situation with a married man. She was visiting him in Washington, D.C. His wife was out of town. He had gotten them an outrageously expensive hotel room, out of respect for his wife and their home. Ema took that as a sign of his decency, and as a sign of her doom.
So begins "The Real Sloane Newman," one of the stories in Amie Barrodale's debut collection, You Are Having a Good Time. In these highly compressed and charged tales, the veneer of normality is stripped from her characters' lives to reveal the seething and contradictory desires that fuel them. In "Animals," an up-and-coming starlet harbors a complicated attraction toward her abusive director. In "Frank Advice for Fat Women," an ethically compromised psychiatrist is drawn into the middle of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship. And in "The Imp," a supernatural possession ruins a man's relationship with his pregnant wife.
Barrodale's protagonists drink too much, say the wrong things, want the wrong people. They're hounded by longings (and sometimes ghosts) to the point where they are forced to confront the illusions they cling to. They're brought to life in stories that don't behave as you expect stories to behave. Barrodale's startlingly funny and original fictions get under your skin and make you reconsider the fragile compromises that underpin our daily lives.
The 10 stories in Barrodale's stellar debut collection explore the complications of modern relationships. Rejecting uniformity, the collection spans a variety of geographies, life stages, and experiences. An epigraph from Bhutanese lama and writer Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche serves as a valuable key to unlocking the delights of the book: "There is successful miscommunication, and unsuccessful miscommunication. And when you have unsuccessful miscommunication, you are having a good time." In "William Wei," the story's namesake narrator describes a series of phone calls with an enigmatic woman named Koko that lead him to pursue her in person, only to be left puzzled by the experience. Set in Northern California, "The Imp" is a troubling tale related by an aging, mentally unstable man whose mistrust leads him to commit irreversible acts toward his wife. No less disturbing is "The Commission," in which an immigrant saleswoman describes her encounters with an off-putting customer in a Japanese antique shop. Comical and bizarre, "Frank Advice for Fat Women" examines the conflicting interests of a New York psychologist as he juggles ongoing dialogues with a privileged young female patient and her controlling mother. "Catholic" is narrated by a female magazine editor who slips into a meandering relationship with a drummer. And "Mynahs" places two authors in a tense situation after years of unsettled conflict. Barrodale is comfortable working in an impressive range of styles, and will surely pick up a number of admirers with this standout debut.