There is a familiar young-male quality about the subject matter in Driving the Heart—doing and detoxing drugs, driving fast and having sex, dealing with dysfunctional and/or divorced parents, and, trying to come to terms with psychic imbalance. There is also an M.F.A. quality about the style of the stories, immediately apparent in the self-consciously catchy opening lines: “When my mother removed her shirt in front of third-period honors English, I was in the classroom next door taking a test;” “Someone broke into our house one afternoon and glued all my mother’s shoes to the floor of the closet;” “She was having the best game of her life the day our father fell from the sky.”
Jason Brown knows exactly how to set up parallel symbolic action, such as in the story “Thief,” in which a young man with a psychically disturbed mother regularly breaks into the house of a stable mother to find a secret substitute. And he knows how to line up lists of interesting anecdotes, as he does in “The Coroner’s Report,” telling readers of one man who gets cut in half but continues to hold a conversation and another who shoots himself in the head and then drives home to die calmly in the bathtub. He also knows how to set up ironic, comic/pathetic situations, as he does in the title story about two men who deliver organ transplants, racing calmly against someone else’s diminishing time. There are echoes of other contemporary young male writers in these pieces—Denis Johnson’s druggy ambulance-drivers, David Leavitt’s men-with-their-mothers, Christopher Tilghman’s focus on the family. But there is nothing magical, profound, or particularly unique about them.