Staffel’s engaging and memorable collection (The Notebook of Lost Things) is linked through reoccurring characters, settings, and themes. The protagonists experience deeply personal transformations and struggle to reconcile their various personas and shifting identities. “Tertium Quid” follows Meredith and Gregory, a couple both over the age of 60. The story centers on how aging affects their marriage, and their fading desire for intimacy. In “Mocked and Invaded,” Meredith’s search for a noisy mockingbird leads her to reflect on how she embodies the many different roles and occupations she has held in her lifetime. In the title novella, Marilyn Prett, a recent high school graduate in New York City, searches for a chance to reinvent herself. She adopts a new name, Ava, and accepts a job assisting an elderly widower and retired talent scout, Harvey Abram. Ava meets Harvey’s son, Ruben, who recruits her to join an off-Broadway production as a dancer. Ava discovers her natural talent as a performer and begins to embrace her sexuality. As Ava’s world widens and her experience grows, she must choose between two very different paths. The conflicts in this collection are mostly internal as protagonists move among relationships, places, and positions. Staffel’s prose is graceful—each sentence flows nimbly into the next with poetic but concise exposition. The book’s greatest strength is its dialogue. The voices Staffel employs are distinct and authentic, and she gives her characters room to delve into compelling discussions with interesting revelations that help push the narratives forward. (Sept.)
The Exit Coach is a book of wonderful, astute stories. Staffel’s characters keep falling upon whatever they least expect, as the the plots move beautifully toward a just view of human bumbling. A remarkable collection.
There are so many features to admire in Megan Staffel’s work, including her range of characters, her understanding of her people, the wry humor in her descriptions, the precision of her language, her wisdom in general, and maybe most striking, the love she affords her heroes and heroines. The stories in this beautiful collection are dignified by deep feeling.
THE EXIT COACH is a joy of a book. The first seven stories (my favorite is the massage story, "Mischief," with its weave of surprises) only prepare us for the title novella, an irresistible masterpiece about coming of age, of talent, and of self. Staffel's love for people, for resilient humanity, oddities, and connections is evident; essentially her vision is a comic one, "loopy…sexy…" like the dancing of the young girl who happens into opportunity and her genuine powers like Alice in Wonderland. I didn't want the book to end!
--DeWitt Henry, founder of Ploughshares, author and editor
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