Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cleverly dramatizing his own wry sense of karmic equilibrium, Griner crafts these 10 memorable stories of American life-set variously in cities, the burbs, the country and an expat stint in Portugal-into a wise, engaging meditation on unpredictability. In the linked first-person narratives "Clouds" and "Grass," two aging, very different brothers-one fascinated by clouds, the other by grass-weave bits of their respective expertise into two gently mournful memoirs. "Nails" takes this technique further as a doctor makes sense of his life and the untimely death of his son through an encyclopedic knowledge of fingernail pathology. The imaginative title story follows the rise of a Machiavellian avant-garde photographer in New York who hires a PI to follow her. Like the hapless subjects of her earlier exhibitions, she finds herself mysteriously, psychically invaded-even after the detective disappears. Three other linked stories trace the path of troublemaking drifter Bolen from a construction job outside Cleveland to F.T. Worboys's remote Texaco station. Worboys seems the victim when Bolen robs and vandalizes his station and shop; but as Worboys, in turn, sabotages cars to drum up business, his status becomes more complex. Griner's careful prose intensifies an entertaining debut filled with characters motivated by mingled, often contradictory desires. (June)
Griner's protagonists-aloof fathers, exploitative artists, working-class rogues, and drifters-are usually obsessed with something (fingernails, grass, clouds, revenge) and have trouble connecting with other people. Often, they are older men looking back on their lives with new insight. Griner is clearly influenced by writers like William Faulkner, who was also interested in the theme of revenge and in multiple perspectives. (Griner links some of his stories by maintaining the same central characters or by shifting to the perspective of another family member.) Other themes here include guilt, sibling rivalry, and poor communication in marriage. The endings are often ironic: for example, dishonest employees get cheated by a more clever scoundrel in "Boxes," and an artist who exploits her models finds herself exploited in "Follow Me." An excellent collection; highly recommended for larger fiction collections.-Janet Ruth Heller, Grand Valley State Univ., Allendale, Mich.
Griner strikes pay dirt in this superb collection of 10 stories set primarily in small towns populated by ordinary people with pedestrian dreams. A physician masters the art of diagnosing illness by studying fingernails after he accidentally smashes his infant son's hand in a door. A drifter gets a job on a construction crew building an addition to a hospital, but his impatience and arrogance create more problems than his boss can handle. An avant-garde photographer hires a private detective to follow her and take candid snapshots, only to find she's empowered her own stalker. An ex-con working in an electronics warehouse prevents a burglary while getting the money he needs to save his neck. A prim, moralistic, revenge-minded teacher buys a monkey to demolish the store owned by the man who has jilted her sister. This collection of striking, closely observed stories deserves a large and appreciative audience.
The ten stories in this debut collection vary in quality from writing-school clever to pared-down mature. Griner is most at home in his spare, blue-collar narratives, with their darker view of human nature.
The mostly male protagonists in these often bloodless fictions are men who've made mistakes. Some seek redemption for their errors; others couldn't care less. The recovering coke addict in "Boxes," who's burnt all his bridges, is getting along in his new job until his old dealer comes looking to collect a debt, a situation that forces some quick ethical choices. An old man who knows all about clouds ("Clouds") feels guilty for having been an indifferent father. His brother, narrator of "Grass," confirms this view, proving himself as earthbound as his brother was airy. Women can make mistakes, too: The tough-as-nails schoolteacher in "If There Hadn't Been a Monkey in the Car She Would Have Sung," who feels empathy for no one, seeks to avenge her sister against a cheating boyfriend; when she picks the wrong target, though, she realizes that her entire life has been built on a misconception. The darkest stories are a trio of linked narratives about an arrogant drifter who first loses his construction job in Cleveland ("Why Should I Wait?"), then lands in upstate New York and pumps gas while planning to rip off his employer ("Back Home Again"). After the theft, the station owner, no angel himself, runs a scam on the local highway to drum up business ("Worboys' Transaction"). The sum effect is mean, menacing, and bleak, but not as creepy as "Follow Me," in which a private eye, hired by a performance artist to follow and photograph her, disappearsthough his photos continue to arrive.
This first collection may have been a bit hastily assembledwith one definite throw-away piece ("Thief")but Griner is a formidable talent, sure to be heard from again.