These eleven arresting, comic, and moving stories by acclaimed writer Michael Parker testify to the driving force of love, the lengths to which we’ll go to claim it and pursue it, the delusions we’ll float to keep it going, the torment that goes part and parcel with it. And despite all of the above, the absolute necessity of it, no matter its consequences.
Whether it’s a college student undone by the boy who leaves her, or the boyfriend intent on leveling old scores from high school for his lover, or the husband who discovers—in the grocery store—the woman he should have been with all along, every character, no matter how off track, wants to believe in debt and credit and payback and making the messy world—and the messy world of love—turn out neatly.
Love's unfortunate side effects dominate the majority of stories in Parker's latest (after If You Want Me to Stay), in which characters, haunted by romances past, are frequently driven to extremes. In "I Will Clean Your Attic," Laura, desperate for companionship after her husband leaves her, befriends handyman B.R. Bradshaw after a freak winter storm buries her Southern town in snow and ice. In "Muddy Water, Turn to Wine," college dropout James, who is just beginning to recover from a year-old breakup, takes waitress Erin on a road trip to her father's funeral the morning after their one-night stand. In "The Right to Remain," Sanderson is so devastated by the departure of his girlfriend that he burns his house down in a bid to win back her affection. Though most stories sympathetically treat emotionally wounded or stunted characters, "Hidden Meanings, Treatment of Time, Supreme Irony, and Life Experiences in the song 'Ain't Gonna Bump No More No Big Fat Woman' " is an unwieldy one-off in the form of a critical essay penned by a jilted woman. Parker's prose is pristine, but readers may tire of similarly suffering protagonists.