cover image The Business of Naming Things

The Business of Naming Things

Michael Coffey. Bellevue Literary (Consortium, dist.), $14.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-934137-86-4

The riveting prose in Coffey’s first collection of stories leaves the reader feeling unsettled and unmoored. In “Sunlight,” a man named Michael who works for Publishers Weekly (where Coffey was co-editorial director before retiring earlier this year) visits Harold Brodkey as he’s dying of AIDS. Michael believes that being an adoptee is the “source of all his problems” and asks Brodkey, who’s also an adoptee, whether being adopted prevented him from writing a “conventional narrative.” This sense of unrest and disquiet adds depth to the eight stories, which are varied but share certain themes, returning repeatedly to relationships between fathers and son and husbands and wives. There is no conventional narrative here. Coffey brilliantly examines the efforts of a mother to cope with her son’s death in “Moon Over Quabbin”; he uses the J.F.K. assassination as a backdrop to a tale about a sinful priest in “Inn of the Nations”; and, in “Sons,” he explores a difficult father-son relationship in the context of a possible Obama assassination attempt. This collection, which features first-, second-, and third-person narration, is vibrant and unsparing. (Jan.)