Title: "Camaro City"
Author: Alan Sternberg
Publication Date: 1994, by Harcourt, Brace and Company
ISBN: 0-15-115373-6 (hardcover)
This collection of stories, first serialized in The New Yorker, is an oddly evocative look into a fictional Connecticut town called Camaro City by local car thieves because of the promiscuity of that particular make of car - everybody owns one because the town's inhabitants can't afford Corvettes. If spurious yet intensely human logic like that makes you nervous, this book isn't for you. Alternately, if the short stories of T. Coraghessan Boyle strike you as too misogynistic, grating or just plain implausible while still having a drawing power you don't quite understand, you might want to curl up with this one.
I hasten to point out that this isn't a book about cars - Camaros don't appear all that frequently in the stories, acting more as an overwhelming theme - the feel of a hot rod, polished and tended to above and beyond all else as a symbol of the characters' relative poverty is hard to shake even after their dust has settled and you find yourself left by the side of the road. That's not a bad thing - you can feel the grit accumulating under your fingernails as the stories of this collection of construction workers, school detectives and testosteroned teenagers overlap and meld with an extraordinary level of tenderness.
The most stunning thing about this collection is that the stories don't arc the way you'd expect - as you finish any given story you realize that nothing has really happened and that you feel like you've gained something anyway, a window into this little town that you didn't have before. The subtlety of the text is amazing. Stories lead into and fold around each other without sharing any solid connections - no common characters or specific locations or anything save for the feeling of the town embodied in the author's words.
The stories are short, about twenty pages each, and keep you suitably entertained while still being satisfying. There is something missing, but I think that might be the point, to be able to come to grips with the something that goes on once the everyday nothing is pulled away. Good stuff.