Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Book Review: "The Business of Naming Things" by Michael Coffey

The title of Michael Coffey's new story collection refers to the main character in the title story, who has made a living naming products, housing developments, and other things. But it's also appropriate for the entire collection, which focuses on people trying to get a sense of their own identities—as parent, friend, lover, child, priest—and figure out their place in the world.

Of Coffey's eight stories, the ones I enjoyed the most were: "The Newman Boys," which followed a teenage boy's friendship with a physically disabled neighbor, and how that relationship ripples through the rest of his life; "Moon Over Quabbin," in which a mother pictures her former town, which was submerged under water when a river was dammed, and envisions her son alive through those to whom his organs were donated; and "Inn of the Nations," which follows a priest in the 1960s, trying to get control of his life, which seems no easy task.

While Coffey is a very talented writer, and I enjoyed his use of imagery, many of these stories eluded my grasp. They started out strong, and I understood what Coffey was trying to say, but then the stories veered off course. In some cases, it seemed as if he just threw so much stuff into the stories they were going in many directions at once. This was particularly the case with the final story, "Finding Ulysses," which borrowed heavily from James Joyce.

These stories are intriguing and unique, and Coffey has a strong voice. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

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