"Maybe it’s human nature to measure our lives by what is missing."

Author Dines reveals deep, sometimes painfully unearthed experiences in this shimmering story collection. In the title tale, a man whose son was killed in a sudden, terrible accident tries to reconnect with his wife as they are both lost in a sea of loneliness and despair. She nurses the deep pain of believing her husband could have prevented the death. Meanwhile, he suffers tormenting guilt and the realization that having lost his son, he is now losing his wife. As in some other of Dines’ darkly glowing pieces, the central character will find a fragile will to survive while acknowledging that “grief carries you everywhere you don’t want to go.”

In “The Dog,” a couple gifts their only daughter with a puppy for her tenth birthday. However, this apparently commonplace family scenario hides a somber, almost eerie background: the little girl is an only child, and her emotionally estranged parents have come to imagine that the canine addition might make them appear (and feel) like a “real family.” In Dines’ opening foray, “Almost,” dogs are also featured, as Selby loyally visits her older sister who lives in a slum, takes in dying animals as a small means of charity, and is slowly losing her vision and her touch on reality. Selby’s husband decries his wife’s attachment, convinced that she is being damaged by the relationship. “Disappearances” depicts a teenage girl befriending sophisticated classmates in Italy where her father is working a sabbatical year. When he goes missing for several days, leaving the girl and her mother distraught, she will assume from the cultural mores she has been absorbing from her classmates where he has probably been and what he has been doing. Upon his return, she will have gleaned a new rule about being an adult: suppress the truth and move on.

With each new story, Dines takes the reader on an unpredictable, highly emotional ride, turning the wheel subtly at times to allow a view of what seems a peaceful landscape, then suddenly veering to one side or careening down a steep, bumpy slope so that everything that went before is wiped away. The reader may be confused, saddened, charmed, amused, at times mildly enraged, or gently inspired by the views seen through Dines’ multi-colored lens. Her stories have the power to elucidate, then tear apart and at times mend loving relationships, reasonable expectations, and desperate longings. The characters experience physical sensuality, mental anguish, and varying degrees of calm and compromise. In short, these are stories of real people living lives that do not stay within preset parameters. The conclusions are as open as the chaos underlying each crisis. As one couple styles their new acceptance, “The world was full of hollow places. Things came undone. Closeness thinned. Endings arrived.” Dines, who both teaches and practices the art of the wordsmith and who has written previously for young adults, shows herself here undeniably prepared to present to a mature audience a world in which, like her characters, one must continually reconstruct the rules, reach beyond the past, and reshape aspirations.

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