God Bless America

Steve Almond. Lookout (lookout.org), $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-9845922-3-4
Almond (My Life in Heavy Metal) hears America singing, and the country is way off-key, at least in this collection of 13 irony-laden short stories. In the title offering, a would-be actor and Boston Tea Party re-enactor believes that America is the land of “opportunists” and, through an improbable series of circumstances, accidentally proves this statement to be true. In “Not Until You Say Yes,” a crabby airport security woman is forced to babysit an unaccompanied minor who turns out to have the larcenous heart of a natural-born con man. In the amusing “Tamalpais,” a teenage waiter has a sweaty encounter with a drunken, lecherous female customer. In the collection’s best effort, the Pushcart-winning “The Darkness Together,” an overbearing mother and sullen teenage son on a train trip are forced into the company of a man who harrowingly insinuates himself into their deepest secrets. Two stories revolve around 9/11, but both are disappointingly glib. And in the final story, “A Dream of Sleep,” an immigrant graveyard caretaker, about to lose his job because the land has been sold for redevelopment into a sports arena, gives sanctuary to a pregnant teen and tries to keep the specter of death from taking the baby she bears in the children’s cemetery. Like William Carlos Williams, Almond is writing in the American grain, but the wood has become so warped that this collection about disaffected characters who can barely articulate their needs and fears defines a new American gothic. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/29/2011
Release date: 10/01/2011
Genre: Fiction
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