DiFelice’s (American Zeroes, 2016) debut short story collection offers up a complete world in nine offbeat tales.
The book’s opener, “Does the World Make Sense?” introduces readers to Ernie Pendleton and his wife, Dora, a couple who no longer have sex but who still navigate sexual jealousy every day. Dora’s suspicions are exposed as baseless from the first few lines; it seems that there’s a noisy spot in the basin where Ernie showers every morning that causes the trouble, “a piece of engineering feculence so poorly wrought and installed that it made a high-pitched gasp every time he stepped on a spot in the center.” Dora thinks that the orgasmic sound must come from a woman he’s with. One day Ernie comes back to the house with another woman “on him”—the gory, terrible result of a bomb blast in the subway, which spins the story toward a weird resolution. Another tale probes the bizarre connections among a husband, a wife, and a fertility specialist whom the husband nicknames “Dr. Sperm,” who helps them conceive. A male character in “The Perils of Believing in Santa Claus” belittles his 9-year-old son for still believing in myths and learns a powerful lesson in faith from his wife. Although most stories are told from a male point of view, a few convincingly take up a woman’s perspective—and in both cases, the women seem to know more than the men. In one sci-fi-tinged story, for example, a sister finally understands her brother’s grief because she knows what her brother wanted to hear—something that their late father never said. The narrative tone throughout is smart and wary, as in this careful line from a funeral service: “The cantor sang ‘Here I am Lord’ with such genuine emotion that it nearly punctured the blanket of numbness covering the whole of my body”—nearly, but not quite, as the story is just beginning. The lyric poems that appear between the stories, however, seem unnecessary, and their intent is unclear.
Insightful, imaginative fictions strengthened by a clear moral undertone.