An ATF raid, a moonshot gone wrong, a busload of female cancer victims determined to live life to the fullestthese are the compelling terrains Adam Johnson explores in his electrifying debut collection. A lovesick teenage Cajun girl, a gay Canadian astrophysicist, a teenage sniper on the LAPD payroll, a post-apocalyptic bulletproof-vest salesman-each seeks connection and meaning in landscapes made uncertain by the voids that parents and lovers should fill. With imaginative grace and verbal acuity, Johnson is satirical without being cold, clever without being cloying, and heartbreaking without being sentimental. He shreds the veneer of our media-saturated, self-help society, revealing the lonely isolation that binds us all together.
A teen-age sniper befriends a bomb-sniffing robot; a masturbating French-Canadian is sent to the moon in a battery-powered space nodule; a boy drives a tour bus for the Cancer Survivors' Club; and a couple struggle to keep their bulletproof-vest store afloat. The landscape of this remarkable début collection of stories is built on hard-edged nouns like Kevlar, Futron, plutonium, and dyno-burner, but its real subject is the loneliness of youth, the failure of parents, and the yearning for connection. Johnson's heroes are isolated and alienated, but are capable of feeling just the right emotion at just the right time. "Coupled and bound with someone I cannot see, hear, or feel," one says, "I have . . . a vision: I see a resort permanently frozen in glass, like a 'Wish you were here' diorama in a snow globe, with plastic figurines of those who people my life, while around them whips a constant category-three storm."