David Gates writes practically perfect American stories. Perfect, first of all, in their staid adherence to American short-story tradition. There will be no rioting in the cafés over his first collection, The Wonders of the Invisible World, with its glimpses of characters daunted by love. Here are creatures we know well: Manhattan quasi professionals taking their lumps; urbane fortysomethings trying out small-town life. It's all Updikean adultery, Cheeveresque drinking, some drugs, a life-altering accident or two. But Gates's stories step beyond being perfect examples of their form to become something fresh, compassionate, and witty. He has an astonishing handle on the way people talk, not just to each other, but to themselves. In the title story, a husband remembers the day his wife left him: "She appeared holding a tall glass in each hand as if she were--forget it, no stupid similes. She was a vision. A vision of herself." In "Beating," a Jewish woman is fed up with her Leftist, activist husband, who owns Pound's collected works. "I fantasize sometimes about making a big stink and demanding that he at least put Ezra Pound away where I won't have to see it every day of my life. I'd be like, Hey hey, ho ho, Ezra Pound has got to go."
This kind of attention to the goofy music of interior dialogue is normally found in comic fiction. But Gates is concerned, too, with the little failures of language, and so the failures of relationships. His territory is not comedy, it's the tragedy of failed optimism. In this way, too, he is a perfectly American writer. --Claire Dederer