These hard-hitting, deeply felt stories follow straight arrows and outlaws, have-it-alls and outcasts, as they take stock of their lives and missteps and struggle to rise above their turbulent pasts. A salesman re-examines his tenuous relationship with his sister after she is brutally attacked. A house painter plans a new life for his family as he plots his last bank robbery. A drifter gets a chance at love when he delivers news of a barfly's death to the man's estranged daughter. A dissatisfied yuppie is oddly envious of his ex-con brother as they celebrate their first Christmas together.
Set in a Los Angeles depicted with aching clarity, Lange's stories are gritty, and his characters often less than perfect. Beneath their macho bravado, however, they are full of heart and heartbreak.
Set in a Southern California of smoky skies and Neil Young tunes, Lange's fine debut collection takes the so-called normal guy husband, father, working stiff and throws a heap of trouble at him. "Bank of America" is the completely believable tale of a regular "John Q," a house painter who also happens to rob banks with a small-time team of hustlers while still being a good father and husband to his unsuspecting family. "Long Lost" follows a tentative young husband and reluctant proofreader as he copes with the sudden appearance of a boisterous, angry, ex-con half-brother, courtesy of his neglectful father's second wife. In "Culver City," named after a southeast neighborhood of L.A. where "we're all between jobs or between marriages, between runs of good luck," the narrator's desperately unhappy waitress girlfriend Shelly hopes the compromising pictures of a famous actor that she steals at a party can fetch a price to change her luck and solidify their relationship. A considered, colloquial understatement marks nearly all of the first-person protagonists over the course of these 12 stories, in a manner that's marvelously effective. Lange's characters are well-intentioned screwups, deeply flawed and utterly convincing.