Many of the stories in Emma Cline’s provocatively titled short-story collection feature older men whose stars are fading, numbing themselves from the world’s increasing indifference to their influence with booze, pills and self-delusion. ‘What Can You Do with a General’ depicts a father with an abusive history unable to connect with his grown children at Christmas. In ‘Son of Friedman’, a has-been producer invites his still-successful actor friend to a screening of his son’s self-indulgent short film and awkwardly asks him to collaborate on a new project. In ‘Menlo Park’, a disgraced magazine editor is hired to edit the memoir of a tech billionaire who wants an insider-trading scandal to be recast as a hero’s journey.
Cline’s debut novel, The Girls (2016), was a fictionalised account of the 1969 Manson murders. In these stories, Cline forgoes the fever-dream lyricism of her novel for cool observation. She frequently holds back information: we never learn exactly why the magazine editor was ousted or why his wife left him,