Short story collections are the literary equivalent of a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. On the one hand, they allow an author to be more experimental and the reader to "sample" the author's work. On the other hand, sometimes things get too crazy and you end up with the "coconut nougat" story.
Shadow Selves - ☆☆☆☆☆
MIDDLE-AGED BOYS & GIRLS starts out strong with Shadow Selves a story about a thin woman who is uncomfortable about her heavier friend, because her friend feels at ease in her body in a way that she, the main character, does not. Shadow Shelves really captures the love-hate dynamic of some friendships, and the importance of loving yourself first before letting others in.
Verdict: hazelnut truffle
Prey - ☆☆
Odd, kind of boring story about a conman, two women, and Poland.
Verdict: milk chocolate
Dirty Laundry- ☆☆☆☆
This is a creepy story about a landlord couple renting out a room to a sexy, younger woman. The husband is a little flighty, and the wife has a bit of a sinister vibe. As you can imagine, things end badly, and the words "sexual harassment" rear their ugly head in a lawsuit. The writing in this story was reminiscent of Ira Levin's work. It has that same slow build-up of doom amidst normality.
Verdict: white chocolate citrus
Valentine - ☆☆☆
This story is about a medical illustrator divorcee. One day, she realizes that her awkward, asexual preteen daughter has used the family computer for what looks like nudes. I liked this story, but it was very odd - and I felt like the connection between actual hearts and valentines was strained.
Verdict: cherry cordial
Thick - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about an aging model who is slowly starting to realize how much of a free ride her beauty really gave her, even when she tried to rally against it. After reading I DO IT IN THE DARK, it felt especially relevant; the model's realization that she could only really get away with being flip and uncaring when she had nothing to lose was really powerful. Definitely another favorite.
Verdict: honey crunch
New Ground - ☆☆
Weird story about a husband and wife splitting up. The wife attempts to gain solace by latching on to the super smooth leader of her neighborhood dog-walking group.
Salvation - ☆☆☆☆
Another strange addition, but one I actually liked. The main character is a volunteer working with children who are in danger of becoming bullies or bullied themselves. She attempts to bribe them for good behavior by drawing their portraits, while also reflecting on how easy it is sometimes to bully someone with an accurate (but cruel) caricature of themselves.
Verdict: dark chocolate
The Girl Next Door - ☆☆☆☆
How would you react if you found out one of your neighbors killed and dismembered a young girl? The main character in this story is becoming neurotic, aware of the hostility in their neighborhood, and the negativity her minority single mother status garners as a matter of principle.
Verdict: dark chocolate truffle
Memory Loss - ☆☆☆☆☆
This is a story about a mother and a father and a son. The father races motorbikes, which the mother doesn't like because of how dangerous it is. It becomes a point of contention between the couple - one that they end up dragging their young son into. And then one day the father gets into an accident. I see that I gave this a five star rating in my notes. I'm not sure if I still agree with that sentiment, but it was a really good story, with the same creepy Ira Levin vibe, so five stars it is!
Lord of the Manor - ☆☆☆☆
Another story about landlords, but this time the main characters are the ones who are renting. They find out that their landlord is thinking of selling their lovely home without any consideration for their five-year lease, and one of their jokes turns into a very real idea for potential sabotage.
Verdict: strawberry creme
Dissolution - ☆☆☆
I think this is the most depressing story of the lot. The main character - a woman - is teaching yoga to some high risk girls. But as the story goes on, you quickly learn that she's somewhat of a pederast and has more than strictly platonic feelings for her teenage students (ick!). There are some seriously squicky flashbacks in here, as well as an uncomfortable vibe and a seriously downer ending.
Verdict: sea salt caramel
Doughnut Eaters - ☆
A Canadian expat family living in German, with an absolute jerk of a father. The title comes from his choice insult for men he considers both useless and foppish. What a charmer, am I right?
Overall opinion? Not bad. Definitely one of the better short story collections I've read.
3.5 out of 5 stars.