The three stories in this collection explore reticence and desire.
“Unless Alex” takes place on Valentine’s Day years after the narrator has fallen in love with Alexandra “Alex” Kellogg. As the day passes, the narrator unfolds the story of their lives, from the autumn when Alex first kissed him and the summer when he turned away from the invitation of her nakedness to the years they have lived separate but connected lives. At the end of the evening, when Alex offers another invitation, the narrator knows that if he accepts he may lose her forever.
In “Affliction” reticence gives way to desire: Tony for Meredith, daughter of wealthy, self-absorbed Talbot Breed; Talbot for Janet, a painter whose art depicts the present but predicts the future; Crystal, one of Janet’s subjects, for Janet; and Dr. Abernathy, a retired physician, for Meredith. As one might expect in a story suggested by Gabriel García Márquez, there exists a sensuous psychological and tactile realism, mystery inspired by beauty.
“Loving Ryan” is a complicated story of crime and spying told through the perspectives of several participants: Ryan, an American hired by the president of a Caribbean island nation to tutor his daughter, Isabel; Yvonne, Ryan’s mother; Hugo, Isabel’s father; Julia Katia, Hugo’s wife; Chloe, Julia Katia’s ally in forcing Hugo into exile; and the charming and precocious Isabel, who falls in love with Ryan. In exile, Ryan, the reticent tutor, becomes Hugo’s devoted companion and caretaker.