Clare Sestanovich's debut short story collection, Objects of Desire, focuses on a series of women grappling with the dissolution of their various relationships and the unsteady dynamics that result. Many of the 11 stories take place in the "after": after the divorce, the breakup, the breakdown. There are no romantic reunions, no sensible conclusions. "Terms of Agreement" is an informal letter from an unnamed narrator to her former boyfriend, an attempt loosely to recover the details of a relationship now past. It is also an exploration of performance: the performance of everyday living, especially in the context of someone else. Sestanovich studies the way people act (and why) with a blunt, humorous hand. In "Wants and Needs," a 20-something takes in her 19-year-old "sort-of stepbrother" and lazily imagines a relationship with him, one she doesn't even really want.
The prose is snappy, electric and tight; even unassuming sentences are charged with meaning. And though the collection primarily focuses on people--the way they see each other, the way they relate--it also examines modern society's role in enabling and dissolving their relationships. Most of the young narrators are somewhat creative and aimless: aspiring writers and painters participating in the gig economy. A politician ex-boyfriend is "admirable politically and abhorrent personally." A young man rejects emotional intimacy on dating apps, while his parents' open relationship brings in a much younger mistress. The characters--their attitudes, worldviews and situations--are distinctly 21st century. Sestanovich--named one of the National Book Foundation's "5 under 35"--has managed to create an accessible, sharp collection without sliding into cliché. -- Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer