Desperate people

  • Car Copyright Istock, JimLarkin. Photo illustration by Shaun C. Gibson
 

The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories
Catherine Brady
227 pages, hardcover: $25.
University of Nevada Press, 2009.

In 11 deftly rendered short stories, Catherine Brady's latest book, The Mechanics of Falling, introduces us to fragile people whose precarious lives are unraveling.

Most of the book takes place in California, especially in and around San Francisco with its collision of cultures and desires: the schooled and the unschooled, the young and the washed-up, the giving and the needy. Often, Brady's wounded characters are trying to hold together something on the verge of breaking apart. In "Last of the True Believers," for example, a man sets fire to an abandoned car after being laid off. His wife, who suspects him of the deed, is nonetheless fiercely loyal, willing to destroy evidence rather than destroy her marriage. Another story, "The Dazzling World," shows a couple constantly struggling over their relationship, even while on vacation in Guatemala: "She had weathered countless discussions over whether they worked hard enough at their relationship or were truly compatible."

In many of Brady's stories, dangers lurk nearby, unrecognizable until it's too late. Two college girls wait tables for the summer at a resort in the Sierra Nevadas. One of the girls is sexually assaulted: "It didn't hit me what they were up to till they were dragging me back in the woods."   

With her precise and oddly captivating endings, Brady captures the desperation that holds her characters in its clutches. In "Slender Little Thing," a woman focuses all her hopes on her teenage daughter, determined to give the girl a better life than she has known. When she finds out the girl is pregnant by a high school dropout, she reacts by burning her with the iron she's been using: "Sophie didn't cry out. She gripped her wrist and held her hand before her as if she had to study the triangular imprint the iron had left, erasing the crisscrossing lines on the skin of her palm, searing a fresh new blank, a clean slate."