LURES, subtitled CAREFUL WHAT YOU FISH FOR, is aptly named. Each of the nine stories in John DiFelice’s well-crafted collection features characters who are dissatisfied with their lives and take the risk of trying for something more. Sometimes the trying pays off. Sometimes it ends in greater disappointment, even tragedy. What unites the stories is DiFelice’s great empathy for his characters—men and women, urban and rural, DiFelice understands that we are all united by our desires for what we may never have.
There is a sense of deep melancholy pervading LURES. Many of his striving characters are deeply lonely. They fail to make connections with the people they should be closest to or fail to find anyone to be close to at all. This might make LURES sound like a downer, but it isn’t. The characters’ loneliness is so relatable that it paradoxically makes the reader feel less alone. And there are moments of surprising connection that shine out like a sunbeam after a rainstorm.
Not only that, LURES can be very funny. One story in particular, “Stan Slade and the Case of the Killer Meme,” is at once a hilarious send-up of noir tropes and an endearing love-letter to the city of Philadelphia. But even stories tackling more serious themes, such as “Ich Grolle Nicht,” about a couple struggling to conceive, are told with a humorous voice. The husband, visiting a fertility doctor for the first time, observes that “Upon his walls hang citations and framed magazine covers that praise his brilliance at joining seed to egg in such a way that it very often results in the birth of a human baby. No alien DNA here, that would be cheating.”
Only once did this tonal mix feel off to me. In the first story, “Does the World Make Sense?” a jealous wife’s warning to her husband that he “better not come home with another woman” on him comes disturbingly true when a woman blows herself up next to him on a train. I thought the pun was a bit too much for such a scenario, but the mix of humor and pathos in the following stories was more delicately balanced.
In between the stories, DiFelice has written short poems that tease out the themes of his collection. The poems absolutely add to the heartfelt tone of the book, threading it into a unified reading experience and not just a grouping of separate narratives. Definitely pick up LURES this summer and examine what you might be secretly longing for.
~Olivia Rosane for IndieReader