three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
By: 
Adam Ross
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Ladies and GentlemenAdam Ross's debut novel, Mr. Peanut (3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2010), was a disturbing literary examination of marriage and murder. Ladies and Gentlemen is his second book and his first collection of short stories.

The Story: The seven stories of Ladies and Gentlemen demonstrate just how quickly the ordinary lives of average people can descend into chaos. "The Rest of It" features an English professor who gets more than he bargained for when he befriends a janitor on campus. Sibling rivalry takes a disquieting turn when an ambitious attorney reaches out to his troubled younger brother in "When in Rome." In "Futures," an unemployed man endures a series of bizarre interviews for a mysterious, unnamed job. In the title story, a celebrity journalist runs into an old flame and considers cheating on her husband. Within each, callousness and cruelty characterize relationships among friends, lovers, and family.
Knopf. 256 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307270719

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"What makes [these stories] electrifying is the author's knack for luring his characters into emotional danger. ... He has managed to wed the masterful plotting of Raymond Chandler with the exquisite characterization of Raymond Carver, to prove once and for all that exhibiting a deep empathy for your characters deepens the thrill as they, and we, barrel toward their fates." Steve Almond

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The seven stories that make up Ladies and Gentlemen are both riveting and affecting--the work of an author who has the rare ability to mesmerize and move us. For the most part, with these stories Ross reins in the absurdist sensibilities at play in Mr. Peanut, instead offering a range of plausible--albeit suspenseful, humorous and, at times, noirish--narratives that are nonetheless remarkable for the originality of their compelling premises and the credibility of their characters." Skip Horack

Barnes & Noble Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[When] the stories work, and the majority of these seven do, they offer pitch-black morality tales about vivid characters. ... At its best, the book achieves a level of tragic hilarity that will mist your eyes with bitterness, as sometimes happens to the protagonists themselves, the butt of these random cruelties." Daniel Asa Rose

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Occasionally the book suffers from sameness of language and scope, relying on old tricks (especially the epiphanic final sentence) rather than the innovation Ross demonstrated in Mr. Peanut. Still, these are all-enveloping tales, well paced, tense and driven by effortless prose." Dean Bakopoulos

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Not only does Mr. Ross possess glittering powers of description and a heat-seeking eye for emotional and physical detail, but he's also able to capture the way people talk today with fluency and panache. ... The trouble is that Mr. Ross strains in many of these stories to create highly stage-managed plots--or conclusions--that will ratify his misanthropic view that people, more often than not, will betray their family and friends, that they will manipulate and undermine others to get ahead themselves, or simply to satisfy some perverse desire to see another human being humiliated or hurt." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

Ross's storytelling skills are on full display in his sophomore effort, and these powerful, if somewhat patchy, stories live up to the promise of his debut novel. Ross skillfully twists unlikely events into believable scenarios, persuading readers not only to relate to his characters but to identify with the weaknesses that shape and motivate them. Though the New York Times Book Review cited some stylistic lapses and the New York Times faulted Ross's relentlessly "bleak view of human nature" and "propensity for nasty denouements," they both praised his eye for detail and his meticulous prose. For readers unafraid to confront the darkest recesses of human relationships, Ladies and Gentlemen is a grimly riveting collection of old-fashioned short stories that "will sweep you away" (San Francisco Chronicle).