cover image I Knew You'd Be Lovely: Stories

I Knew You'd Be Lovely: Stories

Alethea Black. Broadway, $14 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-307-88603-3

A sense of vulnerable restlessness is betrayed by the otherwise pragmatic characters of Black's strong debut collection. Many of these well-meaning, serious protagonists are middle-aged and seized by a paralyzing personal crisis. British botanist Bradley of "That of Which We Cannot Speak" is reeling from the split with his wife back in Islington when he meets a comely laryngitis-stricken doctor in New York; the father of a troubled teenage son in "The Only Way Out Is Through" attempts a perilous camping trip with him to "reconnect"; and a single late-30s schoolteacher, frustrated by her career choice, tracks down her favorite high school teacher for advice in "Good in a Crisis." Big, perhaps unwelcome, surprises lurk for all. For the lawyer protagonist of "The Thing Itself," it is the ecstatic realization that he no longer wants to practice law. For the struggling young New Yorker of "Mollusk Makes a Comeback," it is the example of the resilient mollusk in the Museum of Natural History, "barnacled and determined," rather than the dodo bird, "complacent unto extinction." And, finally, for the young woman of the title story, it will be hitting on the perfect present for her longtime love interest whose attentions have started to wander. A charming tentativeness rattles the polished foundation of these straightforward tales. (June)