>The Dead Fish Museum

>by Charles D’Ambrosio

It occurs to me that a book of short stories is as good as the best story in the collection. So although I plodded through a number of stories that I thought were only so-so, I was blown away by “The Blessing” and that story alone leaves me with a favorable impression of the whole volume.

The narrator and his wife have moved to Washington state, apparently to help alleviate the wife’s depression that stems, at least in part, from her failed acting career. They host a visit by her irascible father and her ne’er-do-well brother and the brother’s Filipina wife and their baby. The timing is bad as the rains have brought a flood. The brother needs money. The father causes trouble.

“Moving, we had made our lives smaller, and I didn’t want to talk about careers. I went outside and untangled Jimmy’s fly line from the tree. He’d just left the new rod on the ground. It pissed me off. I went back in and groused to Meagan but she only shrugged and then we worked in silence. Slicing a neat circle from the other half of the onion, Meagan nipped the tip of her finger, one of those clean, shallow cuts that bleed and bleed. I went to find a Band-Aid and when I came back Meagan was crying and sucking her finger.”

Things get worse.

The opening story, “The High Divide,” struck me as an ordinary story of a boy, not the narrator, throwing a tantrum when he finds out his parents are divorcing. “Drummond & Son,” which I remembered from The New Yorker, is a fine story. I enjoyed it all the more because I recently had a discussion with my brother-in-law about his father’s typewriter repair business. It’s a dark story about a man struggling to do the right thing by his autistic son and not sure quite what that is. “The Scheme of Things” is another one I remember from The New Yorker, but once again I was concerned about the weak ending, when the girl, Kirsten, who of the two main characters seems to have a little sense, maybe is about to see Lance for what he is but maybe not, and that’s probably what the reader really wants from this story—one way or the other, I want to her dump him or say fuck it, he’s the best I can do.

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