cover image An Explanation for Chaos: Stories

An Explanation for Chaos: Stories

Julie Schumacher. Soho Press, $21 (180pp) ISBN 978-1-56947-070-1

The protagonists of these nine sharply observed and moving stories by PEN/Hemingway finalist Schumacher (The Body Is Water) are generally preadolescent or teenage girls trying to fathom a world in which parents fail to protect them from sadness and force them to assume adult responsibilities. Three parents in these stories take sick, two die, several couples separate or divorce--and the kids try to cope. Sometimes they express their unhappiness in mean, nasty behavior toward their siblings and peers. Sometimes they are so cynical and world-weary that their perceptions are implausibly wise. The best stories, however, keep the reader off kilter, delivering poignant, visceral truths about families and sibling relationships. When the narrator's sister in ""Dummies"" takes on the burden of responsibility for their retarded brother, the dynamics among the siblings are wrenchingly rearranged. In ""Levitation,"" the rebellious behavior of two teenage girls casts a long shadow into the future. The stories resonate with striking images: three siblings crowded in back of a pickup truck with a dozen fire-charred, naked mannequins; a young husband whose cowboy boots contain prosthetic feet to replace those he lost in an accident. In the title story, a woman tells her therapist about her stern scientist father's unrelenting search for ""an explanation for chaos.'' Her bitter response is to believe that ""almost nothing has a reasonable explanation.'' If chaos is never far from the surface of all the lives depicted here, Schumacher renders their dynamics with vibrant imagination. (Jan.)