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Laura MillerThe eight short stories in Maria Flook's new collection belie the book's dramatic title. In fact, despite the often extreme aspects of the lives these slices are taken from -- transsexualism, domestic violence, heroin, rape, autoerotic self-asphyxiation, incestuous yearnings -- they melt like wafers in the reader's mouth, crafted according to some austere Raymond Carver-esque recipe, eminently tasteful but lacking in flavor. For her characters, Flook chooses mostly aimless, young working-class residents of Providence, Rhode Island: drivers of frozen fish delivery trucks, receptionists, customer service clerks, snowplow operators, drugstore cashiers, a welfare mother. Some of her best passages describe the dispiriting cycle of rifling the want ads; the monotony of hourly wage jobs and the brief, peculiar moments of human contact they sometimes afford; quitting or being fired; and the edgy leisure of unemployment.
Perhaps it's precisely the hapless blankness of these people that flattens out Flook's stories. We view them from a lofty perspective far more knowing than their own. The two most successful stories in You Have the Wrong Man are first-person narratives told by characters with a leg up on the world -- a aunt who seduces her troubled niece's boyfriend and a medical student nursing a bitter and unrequited crush on a successful commercial novelist. Flook generates a tangy irony in the gap between their firmly constructed self-images and the events they relate. Here, at last, she seems to have a thing or two to say about emotional opportunism and our perverse appetite for unhappiness. "I saw how the end of an affair is an end to the suspension of disbelief," the medical student observes sourly. "A lot like the close of a circus act when we see the sword swallower collect his array of knives. The lights go up and we see the nets and wires which we had not noticed before." Otherwise, Flook's stories -- although gracefully written in a low-key, understated mode -- take too much after their characters, drifting into existence without any real sense of purpose. -- Salon