STEPHEN O’CONNOR IS ONE OF TODAY’S MOST GIFTED AND ORIGINAL WRITERS. In Here Comes Another Lesson, O’Connor, whose stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Conjunctions, and many other places, fearlessly depicts a world that no longer quite makes sense. Ranging from the wildly inventive to the vividly realistic, these brilliant stories offer tender portraits of idealists who cannot live according to their own ideals and of lovers baffled by the realities of love.
The story lines are unforgettable: A son is followed home from work by his dead father. God instructs a professor of atheism to disseminate updated Commandments. The Minotaur is awakened to his own humanity by the computer-game-playing "new girl" who has been brought to him for supper. A recently returned veteran longs for the utterly ordinary life he led as a husband and father before being sent to Iraq. An ornithologist, forewarned by a cormorant of the exact minute of his death, struggles to remain alert to beauty and joy.
As playful as it is lyrical, Here Comes Another Lesson celebrates human hopefulness and laments a sane and gentle world that cannot exist.
The impossibility of balancing desire and its fulfillment lies at the center of many of these inventive stories. They range from fabulistic to realistic, and the best ones retain a vague fealty to reality, though the alternate worlds visited are sketched with a skewed, knowing hand, as with "Ziggurat," a droll, slightly disorienting account of the Minotaur in his labyrinth. The mythical monster displays only scorn for his victims until he develops a crush on his latest victim, who diverts him through flattery, cajolery, sharing beers, and teaching him to play pool. Elsewhere, Charles, "the professor of atheism," appears in six stories and skewers the outsized egos of academics even as his own is gratified in the most unlikely ways before, that is, wry resolutions render each reward a less than ideal outcome. Charles's scholarship is adored; he vacations in Eden; and he eventually confirms his own worst, narcissistic fears. O'Connor (Rescue) is a wizard at engendering sympathy for his characters, who are often simply trying to make sense of situations less certain and comfortable than they might wish.