cover image There’s Something I Want You to Do

There’s Something I Want You to Do

Charles Baxter. Pantheon, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-87001-3

Five stories named for virtues and five for vices make up this collection from a master craftsman. Set mostly in Minneapolis, Baxter’s (Gryphon) interlinked narratives feature ordinary people extending themselves beyond the ordinary for those they love, or used to love, or cannot love. In “Bravery,” a pediatrician and his new wife visit Prague, where a madwoman’s ranting appears to predict their future. In “Chastity,” a lonely architect stops a woman from jumping off a bridge; she turns out to be a stand-up comedian whose dark humor and elusive emotions enthrall him. “Loyalty” focuses on a mechanic as he takes his destitute first wife back into his home; years before, she’d abandoned her family, and now she blogs about the experience. “Sloth” shows the pediatrician from “Bravery” in middle age, talking suspense with the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock, who haunts Minneapolis. Baxter’s characters muddle through small but pivotal moments, not so much confrontations as crossroads between love and destruction, desire and death: a translator dreams of the poet whose work defies translation, a gay businessman searches the Minneapolis underworld for his lost lover, and a dying woman looks forward to the resurrection like others look forward to weekend football. The prose resonates with distinctive turns of phrase that capture human ambiguity and uncertainty: trouble waits patiently at home, irony is the new chastity, and a dying man lives in the house that pain designed for him. (Feb.)