In this line-up of twelve short stories, John McCaffrey delves deep into the inner psyche of a dozen very different city-dwelling men. He examines how their thwarted needs and yearnings have generated eccentric and often self-centred behaviours, enabling us to understand his characters and empathise with them, though we may not always like or respect them. Even in the shortest pieces (some of his tales are just two pages long), without ever being sentimental or partisan, he had this reader rooting for the hero.
While the stories are often very funny, they also have a merciless power to draw you up short with a piece of bad news or an unexpected twist delivered deadpan. I won't add an example here, for fear of spoiling any of the book's surprises.
McCaffrey is a master storyteller, choosing his words precisely, incisively and sparingly. He is also wonderfully inventive in the creation of his characters and their habits, e.g. the obsessive shopper who stockpiles groceries so much that he is considering buying a special shed to store his energy bars (what a wonderful way of highlighting the tremendous waste of energy expended on his retail habit), or the man who tries to save his marriage by having sex with his wife on a different boat every night, naming the resulting child after the boat on which she was conceived. (How do you explain that to a kid?!)
Don't be deceived by the slenderness of this book. Though barely over a hundred pages long, it is a rich tapestry that will not only leave you thinking about the characters after you finish reading it, but also make you less likely to dismiss any eccentric or socially awkward men you may come across in future, eg in a grocery store or on your commute. Perhaps you'll find yourself wondering about their inner workings, and wishing you had McCaffrey on hand as your interpreter. I can imagine myself next time I walk down a city street thinking "there's a candidate for McCaffrey".
A GREAT COLLECTION
A couple of the stories ended slightly abruptly for me, but overall the collection flows very well, aided by the pleasing urban-inspired layout and design. The overall effect is of a well-curated art gallery, featuring a set of high quality portraits, resulting in a special exhibition that is even greater than the sum of the parts.