When Adam Ross gave a reading from his new book Ladies and Gentlemen (Knopf) at BookHampton a couple of weeks ago I had not yet read the book, as it had only been published earlier that week. I have now read it and have to say I enjoyed it even more than I expected.
It is a collection of short stories, and although I was very impressed with hie earlier book Mr. Peanut, I wasn't sure that Ross's talents were as well suited to the short story genre, as he had seemed to revel in the opportunities for weaving lines — not to mention puzzles and sub-plots — provided in the longer format of the novel. I needn't have worried: Ross is every bit as gifted a short story writer as he is a novelist and has obviously learned what can work best in either genre.
I was particularly taken with "Middleman" (from which he read at BookHampton), the story of a thirteen-year old boy in New York City named Jacob Rose, who was raised by his Jewish father and Methodist mother with no religion or ethnicity at all, and his two friends, one very smart and thoroughly Jewish, the other very stylish and very WASP; the latter had a gorgeous older sister and thereby hangs the tale (I don't want to spoil it by saying more). A couple of the stories have totally unexpected turns at the end (I will of course not identify them); Ross knows and uses the power of a strong ending.
Most of the stories focus on people older than Jacob, some of them college age but more who are in their thirties and are starting to discover that their lives are not turning out as they had expected, and although some of the stories may be autobiographical at least in part, others are narrated by or focused on women as the central character — the title story, for example — and show that Ross can write women as convincingly and sympathetically as can write men.
So, another very strong debut in a new genre from Adam Ross. We can only wonder what he will bring us next.
— Jeremy Nussbaum