This volume of short stories delivers themes of adolescent disaffection, fractured relationships, and grief.
Sixteen tales are presented here, introducing a range of characters, many of whom are striving for freedom in some shape or form. The opening story, “Trophies,” is about two brothers eager to sell their inherited home in the Hamptons. They are faced with a difficult decision when they discover that their property is a prime nesting ground for bald eagles. The following tale, “Night Life,” moves the action to Manhattan, where some kids have decided to claim the borough’s trees and bridges as their own. Meanwhile, “Fremont’s Return” focuses on an incendiary rant by a renegade teacher who implores his class to “skip school,” and “Lazy Point” examines a family left fraught by a messy separation. “Acabonac Harbor” and “Freetown” are both about high school students. The former stars Jab, a troublemaker who is going through counseling, and the latter features a “backwards-dunking white boy” who forms an uneasy bond with the star of the basketball team, who is from a Black neighborhood. “Highway 216” is a peculiar story about a family setting out on vacation that chooses to leave its car behind. The collection closes with “Promised Land,” about a brother trying to reason with his sister’s controlling husband.Raebeck’s key writing tactic is to create seemingly commonplace scenarios and then ambush readers with the uncanny or unexpected. The author delights in making readers uneasy—no more so than in “Dream Girls” when the 14-year-old protagonist makes an innocent trip to the family bathroom to find an apparition of his dead mother in a state of undress: “ ‘Ricky,’ she says, mimicking my tone and pulling off the bra. She takes a breast in each hand and raises it up, eyeing her reflection.” Anything can happen in a Raebeck story, and this should make his writing both compelling and perturbing. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. The author’s ambling style is more suited to a novel, as demonstrated in Sparrow Beach (2018), in which Raebeck took the time to develop his characters and plot. When applied to short stories, his writing lacks the urgency to quickly draw readers in. The result is a surfeit of sluggishly mundane descriptive passages: “The traffic was thick and fast-moving, two lanes each way, with a two-foot concrete divider in the middle. They stood for two complete cycles of light changes, and realized that, due to the calibrated green arrows, traffic was continually moving.” The collection is not without its memorable moments, as when the boisterous teacher Fremont tells his class: “Let’s face it, minions, for me, teaching has become a burlesque, an exercise in tangents, free association, blind groping.” Such gems are scattered throughout the volume, but some readers may get bored waiting for them. Raebeck is a talented writer, but this offering is a little off tempo.
A collection with some imaginatively offbeat but unevenly narrated plotlines.