Reviewed by: Pete Barber
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Approximate word count: 20-25,000 words
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Kathleen Maher’s short fiction has appeared in a number of literary journals. Underground Nest originally appeared in serial form on her website. She lives in New York.
The story is a character study of Zach Severins. The author follows her character’s adulthood as he marries, has children, and builds a successful career in academia. But overconfidence and avarice and homophobia gradually eat away at his success.
This is a fast read, only eighty pages. I didn’t notice that when I picked it, and quite possibly my unfamiliarity with shorter works colored my impressions of this story, but I didn’t much enjoy the tale.
Zach is a details-oriented man. He’s determined to succeed. His every life move and decision is calculated. He plans his future like a game of chess where every meeting he attends is expected to increase his profile and enhance his resume. He chooses his wife, has a nuclear family, lives in the correct suburb, mixes with the right people, joins the right clubs. He brought to mind the characters in the movie, Pleasantville—black-and-white-and-grey.
And that was the problem for this reader. Zach is boring and flat. He shows no emotion. Even when he becomes unfaithful to his wife, it’s with a woman who can help his career. When his life begins to unravel, I didn’t feel any tension—a gay friend steps in and supports him and Zach partially revises his acute homophobia. When he loses his tenured position, the dean arranges for another, better position at another university.
When his teenage daughter writes him a scathing letter, she writes a second letter the next day recanting most of what she said.
On a positive note, the writing is crisp, and the text is well edited. The story just didn’t appeal to me.
Rating: *** Three stars