An older woman is on a plane. She and her seatmate are strangers. There is a bout of – wait for it – turbulence, that inserts her into her seatmate’s life. So it begins; a series of lives briefly touching lives from one story to the next.
I’m sure that I was meant to feel something while reading this; something was supposed to catch my breath, quicken my heart rate- it was supposed to hit emotionally. Really, I just felt Szalay going through the motions. One person’s disappointment bleeds into another’s tragedy. Their tragedy morphs into someone else’s annoyance. One person’s poverty is outshone by another’s utter destitution. It was a misery parade. “Look how bad things are here, but WAIT- they’re even worse here! Got ya!”
One piece briefly burned, but it fizzled out on the next connection. A journalist in Brazil wakes up from an app-procured one-night stand, and her co-conspirator is in no hurry to leave. He’s a long-haul cargo pilot, and he’s hoping for a real connection. He’s waiting in the wings while she’s in a hurry to jet off to Canada for a story. They share an Uber to the airport. He wants to share more, but she’s gone with a wave.
This collection feels like Szalay had a scrap of an idea that could grow into something meaningful, but he was up against the wall of a serious deadline. While well-written in a technical sense, the scaffolding of story into story fell flat for me. Instead of marveling at the human condition, I found myself rolling my eyes while channel surfing through misery porn.