From a 1980s literary superstar’s return to a study of American trailblazers with obsessive-compulsive personality disorder.
Back in the 1980s, Desmond Hogan was a writer to watch, one of those figures who could light up a London literary party just by showing up. The following decade, though, he fell completely out of sight—even his close friends couldn’t track him down. Today, his name elicits blank stares more than anything else, but the Irish author is back with a short-story collection that seeks to restore his place among the likes of Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Kazuo Ishiguro. In form, the stories range from impressionistic to fairly linear. In content, they deal in lost loves, lost opportunities, and the ambivalence inspired by a difficult childhood. Protagonists often remember a brief relationship that lingers still, decades later. In the title story, a murdered boy is remembered through a series of flashbacklike sketches. Here, Hogan shows an eerie knack for placing pop-culture references in places where they shouldn’t belong, but do. Collectively, the stories evoke an Ireland that disappoints even as it captivates, as gloomy and inscrutable as the author who conceived them.