cover image Inappropriate Behavior

Inappropriate Behavior

Murray Farish. Milkweed (PGW, dist.), $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-57131-107-8

The characters in Farish’s debut collection react to the erosion of normalcy in myriad ways, from stress to psychosis. “The Passage,” the first and strongest story, is about a student setting off on a freighter from New Orleans to study in France, joined by a mysterious cabinmate. With its ambitious stab at deep U.S. insecurities, this short, shattering story sets a high bar that the rest of the collection struggles to reach. Another successful story, “The Thing About Norfolk,” is a tale of ghosts and erotic obsession that works beautifully—up until the too-blatant conclusion. “Mayflies,” about an aging waitress’s attempt to save a young woman from a circumscribed life, is also a standout. A corporate cog tells of his workplace’s decent into chaos in “Ready for Schmelling,” which, despite inspired moments, reads like a sketch waiting to be expanded; and “Lubbock Is Not a Place of the Spirit,” an attempt to get inside the head of John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Reagan in 1981, feels like a stunt. Farish is at his best—and in the case of the “The Passage,” he’s masterful—in the stories in which the cracks are just beginning to form in the facade of normal life. (Mar.)