cover image The Man in the Buick

The Man in the Buick

Kathleen George. BkMk Press of the University of Missouri-Kans, $14.95 (187pp) ISBN 978-1-886157-20-0

""Semper fidelis"" could never be the motto of this bleak collection of 10 stories. Its subjects, in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, turn time and time again to extramarital liaisons to combat discontent and loneliness. Viable relationships are few and far between. In ""The Tractor Accident,"" Garren, a would-be photographer stuck in his wife's upstate New York farm, pursues a woman who is ""city."" John, recovering in Mexico from his wife's abandonment, falls for a maid. Robert, the protagonist of ""Maria,"" just wants to be a cowboy after 25 restless years in an East Coast marriage. Much of the women's unhappiness is child-centered. Fran in the title story suffers from empty-nest syndrome, while Linda can't get over the near-abduction of her baby (""Small Errands""). Only a 10-year-old mentioned in passing (the daughter of the son of an abusive ex-lover, now dead) is said to be ""okay.... But her disappointments are still in the future."" Most characters, like Claire in ""Weeds,"" feel compelled to ""make a change""; she leaves her marriage after offering the gardener next door--a young ""loser""--a glass of water and then much more. ""I couldn't tell you why,"" she tells her bewildered husband. ""I don't know myself. I don't know. I really don't know."" At the end of each story, the discontent and loneliness mostly persist. The writing is proficient, with stories told from multiple viewpoints, but heavy-handed. ""The morning represented their marriage,"" we're told outright as spouses work side-by-side, but not together. Although the tales may appeal to those in similar life circumstances, they do not transcend their subject matter. (Sept.)