Good Trouble (Pantheon Books, 2018) by Joseph O’Neill’s is a collection of 11 short stories that give glimpses of contemporary life in the developed west.
O’Neill seems to steer away from the dramatic and maintains a more reflective mode of narration in his stories in this collection. Memories and thoughts exceed, often dominate, the narration than dialogue and action. This makes these stories more character-focused than plot-driven. In fact, in some stories, the plot seems to disappear under the character’s personal engagement in the situation at hand, as in last story, The Sinking of the Houston.
It’s inevitable for realistic storytellers to depict relationships – family, friends, enemies, and of course, husband-and-wife issues. And while many writers tend to explore attachments in relationships, O’Neill seems to go the other way. His stories show more of the detachment in relationships, between spouses and between friends or relatives. It’s an interesting vantage point for exploring a character’s map of feelings and see where they are located at any time on what contour of detachment.
While the main characters in Good Trouble are set in North America, travel is a repeat experience shared by a number of them; and this includes international travel that lets readers see the cultural gap between places and life in them as they differ from America. Cultural commentary is a notable part of these stories. Also, geographical and geological details seem to play an important role in the author’s descriptions of places and things. It may feel a bit pedantic but makes you wonder whether the author is a student or teacher in earth sciences, or just a keen observer.
These stories have a characteristic humor, both situational and verbal. They may not make you break into laughter but sure bring a smile on your face off and on. What they don’t do is make you tear up, unless you are sensitive to something out of the usual.