From Publishers Weekly
The stories in Laken's capable follow-up to Dream House are divided among the experimental and the straightforward, the hopeful and the wistful. Laken visually splits the title story on the page: one side sees a removed narrator recount a man's coming-to-terms with the loss of his thumbs, the result of "a coffee-and-ephedrine buzz" and the bypassing of safety regulations at his manufacturing job; the other side tells the story from the perspective of the man's 12-year-old son. Other stories, too, focus on divided perceptions, though with less visual flair. In "Before Long," set in the Russian countryside in 1993, Anton, "twelve and blind," longs to feel useful to his older friend, Oleg, and tries to buy a pornographic magazine for Oleg's collection while on an outing with his overbearing mother. In "Family Planning," Josie and her girlfriend, Meg, travel to Moscow to adopt a child, but when they are given a choice of orphans, the women unexpectedly confront their divergent hopes and expectations. If all this sounds bleak, Laken keeps the misery in check, even as she excavates the split between people, cultures, and generations. (Feb.)
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In eight short stories, Laken (Dream House, 2009) examines what divides us, from solitude to anger, fear, and silence. All her characters are misfits or damaged, cut off in one way or another from their fellow humans. There�s a blind Russian boy, unable to communicate his desire for independence; a recent amputee, who�s taken to �experimenting with reticence� as she withdraws from her devoted husband; a gay couple adopting a Russian baby, who can�t agree on a particular child; a man who�s lost his thumbs, the very thing that identifies him as a man, not an animal. �We are not fine,� his son says, which serves as the theme of these finely crafted, fully realized tales. Laken demonstrates that all of us are in some way isolated from others, trapped in our own thoughts, our own hurts, our own bodies. In setting her stories alternately in Russia and the U.S., Laken shows that borders and oceans create less of a gulf than does the tiny space between two people. Bridging that chasm is our greatest challenge. --Patty Wetli