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Know the West

Stories from the shadow sides


Boys and Girls Like You and Me
Aryn Kyle
225 pages, hardcover: $24.
Scribner, 2010.

Writer Aryn Kyle, who was raised in Grand Junction, Colo., examines the frontier between childhood and adulthood in 11 stories threaded by themes of solitude and unrest. The characters -- precocious girls, a middle-school boy, women caught in adulterous or unstable relationships -- reflect the author's "shadow sides," often becoming entangled in emotional complications that they could have avoided had they not been blinkered by their own self-involvement.

Several protagonists share similarities: The freshman in "Brides" and the sister in "Take Care" derive part of their identities from serving others; the girl in "Nine" and the woman in "Company of Strangers" possess imaginations that conjure darkness; and the students in "Sex Scenes from a Chain Bookstore" and "Economics" allow their disaffected feelings to influence their jobs. Many of them use the art of seduction to test their sway over others.

By contrast, Tommy, in "Captain's Club," is one of the few generally good-natured characters. An introspective adolescent, he goes on a Mediterranean cruise with his classmate, his classmate's father, Frank, and Frank's girlfriend, Tree. In a bittersweet moment, Tommy realizes that Tree, who befriended him, most likely did so only because she felt neglected by Frank. In the final scene, during a resplendent moonrise, Tommy is mired in helplessness when he is confronted by emotional forces beyond his control.

Kyle mines some uncomfortable subjects, noting the consequences of poor choices, predatory "frenemies," and becoming too dependent on the approval of others. But her stories avoid tidy judgments. Maturity is presented along a continuum rather than as a milestone, and despite their troubles, most of the characters emerge as thoughtful figures --  "boys and girls like you and me," who must learn to embrace imperfection as well as moments of revelation. Kyle takes an unflinching yet compassionate view of life, and when she writes of "the feeling or knowledge or faith that somehow, someday, everything was going to be all right," we come away reassured, with a new trust in human resilience.