The protagonists of these 11 stories are lonely people who've been hurt by their pasts, and become hesitant to test the dangerous waters of new circumstances or relationships. They aren't safely anchored to the real world, or even to their own inner selves, and many are still bound, well into middle age, to elderly or deceased parents or to spouses or lovers long since gone. Burgin's prose is dreamy and meditative, and the flat rhetoric that dominates his stories often has the surely unintended effect of making his characters' idiosyncracies seem hopelessly remote from us. For example, the narrator of "The Park," finding solace neither with the woman he covets nor in the fabricated beauty of the public park he compulsively visits, achieves an unspecified (and unconvincing) gratification when he meets an elderly woman and carries her groceries home for her. But what literally happens in the piece simply isn't enough to allow us entry into the character's mind and heart. A few other tales feel similarly thin, but there are several impressive successes. The fine title story shows how a withdrawn young man, afflicted by a recurring dream of floating heavenward and simply disappearing, resolves this trauma by manufacturing a "durable memory." And in the haunting "My Sister's House," a "gypsy scholar," who has never put down roots or settled into a relationship, assesses what differing effects his parents' "house full of secrets" has hadon his own stunted development, as well as on his sister's contented lesbian marriage.
These odd, quirky glimpses of lives lived beneath the surface or on the fringe of "normal" behavior only intermittently strike sparks of recognition in us. But the best of them are all too familiar and won't be easily forgotten.