Games and Rituals: Stories

Knopf. Apr. 2023. 240p. ISBN 9780525659518. $28. F
Heiny’s new collection (after her novel Early Morning Riser) offers vignettes of people bumping into and falling away from one another, of accidental intimacies and casual disregards. Each story gives a fresh opportunity to slip into another’s slightly uncomfortable skin. Moments of quiet, tenuous tenderness lean against others sharper and less generous. Heiny keeps a fine and appreciated balance in her exploration of human foibles ripe with the humorous, cringy, self-compromising situations life presents, as when a flustered young woman wears a bridesmaid’s dress to work and another helps her husband’s ex-wife move. The characters are imperfect yet worthy of attention and affection, if not love, and Heiny never belittles or judges them. But they find ways to carry their aches and regrets and move on, showing that life is awkward and is also strangely sweet and can offer little moments of reprieve, joy, and camaraderie, sometimes in the places and people we least expect.
VERDICT Heiny seems to have a little soft spot for her fellow humans, writing honest stories generous in their portrayal of how all are just trying to connect while protecting themselves and searching for some comfort in a complicated world.
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