His characters smoke too much, drink too much, have meaningless sex, and stumble into blunders that are sometimes atrocious. And the reader keeps turning the pages, riveted to these stories like they are wrecks on the highway.
Gross, who writes for CityBeat, sets most of these stories in and around Cincinnati and has the ability to set a scene with a minimum of brush strokes. When his narrator sits in a seedy bar in Covington, Kentucky, recalling the time his wife caught him in a cheap motel with an over-the-hill stripper; Gross doesn’t waste any wordage describing the humiliation. “I put out my cigarette forcefully, hoping that would also crush out the memory…”
A young writer could learn loads from these stories. Things like economy and how less is often much, much more. Gross has the courage to let his narrators be not only deeply flawed but even despicable at times. And he has the mature insight to know when to allow the reader to fill in the artfully positioned void.
These stories are smart, not only for the words that are there, but for the words that aren’t.
D.B. Wells is the author of Your Lolita, a collection of short stories. Her first novel, The Terrestrial Paradise will be released this spring.