cover image Thunderstruck & Other Stories

Thunderstruck & Other Stories

Elizabeth McCracken. Dial, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-33577-5

McCracken’s short stories are like no others. Her distinctive voice, her slightly askew manner of looking at the world, her mix of mordant humor and tenderness, her sense of life’s ironies, and the jolt of electricity at the end of each tale make her work arresting and memorable. In this collection of nine short narratives (McCracken’s return to short fiction 20 years after Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry), a feckless, improvident father mourns the unwitting example he has set for his son; a grieving mother finds solace in a neighbor’s child, while that child’s mother is about to undergo a tragic loss; and a librarian has to live with a disastrous memory. In the title story, a father who must come to terms with his daughter’s brain injury muses: “Happiness was a narrow tank. You had to make sure that you cleared the lip.” These stories, set in France, Massachusetts, Maine, and Iowa, are macabre yet anchored by precise details and psychological insight; they turn on ironic twists of fate and seesaws of luck. Readers will enjoy reading them twice—the first time quickly, because the plots are mesmerizing and strange, and the second to relish the dozens of images, aperçus, and descriptions (a handsaw is “a house key from a giant’s pocket”; “His hair looked like it had been combed with a piece of buttered toast”; “Amazing how death made petty disappointments into operatic insults”). McCracken transforms life’s dead ends into transformational visions. Agent; Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (Apr.)