cover image You May See a Stranger

You May See a Stranger

Paula Whyman. Northwestern Univ./Triquarterly, $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8101-3353-2

Whyman’s debut is an honest and sharply observed linked story collection, spanning the life of Miranda Weber from her teens through her late 40s. The opening, “Driver’s Education,” sets up many of the collection’s themes as Miranda learns to drive while gaining insights into herself, her sexuality, and the class and racial tensions in 1980s Washington, D.C. Her relationship with her disabled sister, Donna, becomes the focus of “Drosophila,” which takes place before Miranda leaves for college, and which juxtaposes a science project about genetics with a dance at Donna’s social club. This story reveals Miranda’s impatience with and persistent feelings of guilt about her sister. Miranda grapples with specters of her past in the title story, which describes a fraught country club dinner with her questionable boyfriend and his family. Though the stories proceed chronologically, past and present intermingle as memory creeps in and informs Miranda’s experiences, perhaps most vividly in “Transfigured Night,” about her struggle to maintain a connection with her husband as a newlywed. Themes of love, sex, politics, and family run through the collection, and every detail has satisfying echoes later on. Together, these smart, artful stories capture a woman’s life and the moments that define her. (May)