The power of many of the characters in You Are Not a Stranger Here is evidenced by the fact that they triumph over the weak stories in which they are often forced to live. Witness the runaway mania of the seventy-three-year-old man who prefers madness to taking his medication in “Notes to My Biographer”—irresistible and terrifying at the same time. And then there is the young man in “The Beginning of Grief,” who loses his mother to suicide and his father to an auto accident and masochistically tries to cope by making sexual overtures to a classmate who he knows will beat him up.
However, when author Adam Haslett tries to build a story rather than create a character, he often falls back on a simplistic plot line with an easy trick ending. For example in “Divination,” concept rather than character is the governing factor. A young boy predicts that his brother will die in a sailboat accident, but when the young man returns safely from the boating trip, he dies when his car hits a van pulling a sailboat on a trailer. And in “Devotion,” after reading about the close relationship of a middle-aged brother and sister who live together, the reader is mildly surprised to discover that the brother destroyed love letters sent to his sister years before by a man with which he desired a relationship.
A popular book club pick and best-seller, this debut collection is an easy read by a graduate of the famed University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop, a new writer who seems to know more about creating people than constructing stories.