As a short-story writer, James Lasdun trolls the sea of human characters, pulls up a random human being in his net, examines the character with an unflinching, piercing gaze, then writes a scathingly intimate story that takes us deftly and unfailingly to the defining issues in that person’s life. When confronted with a moral choice, most of these characters have no faith resource. In “The Incalculable Life Gesture,” for example, Richard Timmerman is described as having grown up in a churchgoing household but no longer believing in a god or an afterlife. The landscape of the book is arid, but there are moments when Lasdun expresses a yearning for moral guidance.


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