"We've Already Gone this Far" by Patrick Dacey

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There is a story in Patrick Dacey’s collection We’ve Already Gone this Far called “Acts of Love.” A down-and-outer encounters another in the cheap motel where he’s gone to live, having been thrown out by his wife. I’ll quote:

"He looked like a large child who, after threatening his parents for so many weeks that he was going to run away, had finally done so but now had gone too far and was looking for way back home.”

If you want a thesis statement for this collection, that will do nicely.

Dacey’s characters find themselves in new and precarious positions: a husband who has lost his wife’s affection has traveled far from home to make love to a yoga instructor he knew in high school. A young man snaps out of his extended adolescence long enough to help a neighbor, who happens to be his former football coach from high school. A woman gives in to her mania for plastic surgery and goes on TV to do “before and after” for a daytime talk show.

These people all share a painful separation from their lives as they once knew them, or thought they knew them. These are fictions of hurt or hurtful people, looking on at their lives as though from the outside. They don’t deal well with others, especially if they’re intimately close to them. And the writing features brilliant strokes, like when the woman doing her radical makeover recognizes that her doctor is actually quite handsome, even with his pockmarked face. Sometimes we encounter a spark of humanity: a fearful, manipulative woman knows what a burden she’s taking on when she returns to her aged old flame to comfort his last years, or the aforementioned onetime football player buries his old resentments toward his coach and acts kindly toward him.

Mr. Dacey varies his subject, but the perfection of his treatment of human doubt and frailty, and confusion and fear, never flags for a moment. The great strength of this collection lies in this consistency.  These characters’ lives flash before us in perfect illumination: their hopes and despairs and desperate gambits ring perfectly true each time.

These stories are uniformly excellent.

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