It was appropriate that on the week one of my favorite short story writers won the Nobel Prize, I was reading a collection of stories written by a woman writer new to me. Until recently, it had been a while since I read short stories, and I had forgotten how much I love the form. This book, described as “compelling” in the publisher’s synopsis, surely lived up to its promise. After I finished, I looked up the author, only to realize that I really am behind on this one — how did I miss her before now? (Thank you NetGalley, for giving me the opportunity to read a book I am excited to share with my friends.)
I think all but two of the stories in this collection were published before, but they have a terrific sense of time and place when put together here. Some of the characters overlapped, the time periods seemed similar within a decade or two (love to read the words “you can borrow my word processor”). The stories, for the most part, dealt with heavy themes; almost all seemed to have an undertone of violence. But what got me really hooked, was that many of them started out familiar, almost innocuous, then turned into something more serious, tense, and often, disturbing. The title story contained the perfect balance of the ordinary and the extraordinary, in the details, the writing and the theme. It elevates what starts as a rekindled friendship to the point of horror with only the subtlest of changes as the story progresses. The only glitch for me was the last story in the book. It seemed as overwrought as the unceasing barking of its theme. (It was almost like the short story version of the movie “Pacific Heights” — even if you weren’t likely to be in that particular position, the premise was real enough to put fear in your heart.) As for me, I just wanted it to be over! For a book containing 13 stories, this last one took up almost twenty percent of the pages. The problem was that I kept praying for the story to be over, and then, when it was, so was the book. Despite this, I highly recommend the collection. And, if you do have a problem with the dogs in your neighborhood, you might want to skip that last story.