cover image Maggie Brown & Others

Maggie Brown & Others

Peter Orner. Little, Brown, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-51611-2

“I’m always interested in the way people edit the details of their lives, the way they compress all the years into sentences,” says the narrator of one of this collection’s 44 powerful tales, expressing Orner’s talent for crafting captivating character sketches that read like memoirs. Loosely linked by their shared settings (Chicago; Fall River, Mass.) and characters, the stories comprise a mosaic of lives remarkable primarily for an ordinariness—one character reflects that “his friends, his family, considered him a failure, he knew, not a spectacular failure, a mundane, run-of-the-mill failure”—that occasionally is thrown into sharp relief by a dramatic incident, such as a near car crash that reveals the narrator’s true nature in “My Dead,” or a young man’s taunting, in the title story, of a disaffected roommate whom he doesn’t know is carrying a gun. The final story, “Walt Kaplan Is Broke: A Novella,” crystallizes the concerns of the stories that precede it in its account of a middle-aged Jewish businessman struggling to stay on top of what characters in another story think of as “a world with so little sense of order.” Readers will sympathize with Orner’s characters and identify with their all-too-human frailties. [em]Agent: Ellen Levine, Trident Media Group. (July) [/em]