The dark comedy of life plays out for a series of men and women in McCormack’s second short story collection (after Getting It in the Head). Staid realists, the characters in McCormack’s stories find themselves coping with hardscrabble circumstances tinted by the author’s signature irony: a woman’s near-death experience annoys her friends; brothers content in their lives stare down inevitable heart disease; a man’s long-missing uncle returns home, only to be swiftly diagnosed with a terminal illness. These stories range from the grim to the bizarre—in “There Is a Game Out There,” a wrongfully convicted prisoner discovers he is the victim of a massive conspiracy that results, in part, in his being asked to play and critique a video game based on his life (“These are the times,” a game representative tells him. “There is no principle or sacrifice that cannot be commoditized”). In “The Man from God Knows Where,” a character asks his brother to drive him into town so he can buy his own coffin. In “These Two Men,” a man is visited by secret agents who attempt to recruit him before getting sidetracked by an argument over college soccer. In the book’s title story, a grisly murder scene reveals itself to be the evening television fare of a tea-sipping couple. McCormack’s wry minitragedies punch above their weight, and when he combines the funny with the bleak, the stories are worth savoring. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 05/12/2014 Release date: 07/08/2014 Genre: Fiction
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