cover image Ladies and Gentlemen

Ladies and Gentlemen

Adam Ross. Knopf, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-27071-9

This competent if unspectacular collection from Mr. Peanut author Ross lacks a standout, with each tale only fitfully coming alive, usually when the plot turns cruel. In "Futures," an unemployed man goes for a series of progressively stranger job interviews while also coming to the aid of a neighbor, both to crushing results. In "The Rest of It," a maintenance man's story of a crazy night out leaves an academic with a moral quandary and an excuse to speak to his ex-wife. "When in Rome" is a mini-epic of betrayal, and "Ladies and Gentlemen" is the story of a married woman flying cross-country to meet a man "she'd kissed in college nearly two decades ago." "In the Basement," the most memorable of these dark pieces, is an existential horror story triggered by a Christmas card. There are crisp turns of phrase%E2%80%94a character in "Futures" likens his walking around with a fat wad of cash in his pocket to "how a camel must feel about his hump"%E2%80%94and some memorable images, but the stories tend to ramble and too often depend on long stretches of characters talking or reminiscing to advance plots. While Ross is clearly talented, the short story isn't his m%C3%A9tier. (June)