Diary entries concerning innocent Americans abroad.
"Our conversation continues! He is come to tell me I may lunch with him, the progress of my new composition permitting—but immediately he sees I have not moved, not even to dress myself, or put pen to paper. You have a look of puzzlement on your face, little Lotte! he says, and again, I fear he is about to laugh. Indeed, sir, I do! I said. Because I am puzzled! Greatly puzzled! Look! he cried. She gesticulates! You are perhaps at heart una italiana!"
A pizza restaurant employee goes to extreme lengths to sabotage a rival.
"I normally hopped on my Honda scooter and went straight home after work, but not that day. I stood by the gumball machine near the front entrance and peered out the blinds, staring daggers into the Pizza World facade. Their parking lot was full, even though the lunch rush had been over for two hours. I looked at the intersection and their guy was still dancing, waving his arms like a buffoon, no rhythm at all, nothing choreographed. I had a three-minute routine I would do and then repeat, over and over like a fucking pro (three different one-minute variations of the Macarena dance, choreographed by yours truly). Pizza World had clearly put a rookie in the suit, and I thought: that’s one strike against you."
An unemployed banker drifts along Occupy protests, his crumbling life, and a crime scene.
"Against the bleachers’ far end, beyond the scope of the cameras, Michael was thinking again about Brussels. The bullet had rung out with plunky subtlety he knew to expect but found disappointing, still. He remembered a cathedral there and the sound he had heard inside of it. This was years ago. The sound he recalled was a cane that he’d heard falling onto the cathedral’s marble floor. The way sound survives inside a cathedral. He remembered looking across the aisle to a hairless woman with earrings dangling halfway down her neck. In the darkness of Chicago, the boy’s body called to him for a closer look, he still had his phone after all, a camera. He could hear the sirens approaching."
After a young man's death, his college friend and his mother reassess their lives.
"Many of these details Ben learned while he stood in the lobby of the funeral home on Madison Avenue before the service that warm September Saturday. He was looking for a place to stash his suitcase and people were saying the body was in good shape; it was nice to be able to say goodbye. Perhaps it was the jetlag, but Ben never realized they were talking about an open casket in another room and so he never went to see it. Later, when he started believing he was seeing Mike in London — in the turn of a cheek, a certain stride — he regretted this. He thought maybe the problem could have been avoided if he’d said goodbye with more finality, had seen Mike’s dead face. That seemed like part of the problem; it was hard to accept that Mike was gone. He’d worked harder than most for everything he’d attained. How could it be that the one thing he couldn’t work for was not granted to him in large supply?"
A weather forecaster finds her life unraveling in multiple ways.
"Broadcast meteorologists, on the other hand, were supposed to smile through everything. That was one of the first lessons Beth had learned. It didn’t matter if you were talking about heat waves or blizzards or forest fires. Mother Nature was never bad news! Nothing we can’t handle! Her first broadcast job was in Mobile, Alabama, and she had kept smiling as a Category 5 hurricane spiraled toward their coast, kept smiling when the TV studio went dark and the walls shuddered. It was exhausting, all that smiling."
Careers, relationships, infidelities, and anxiety envelop the friendship of two New York women.
"Ellen should have mentioned his kiss right at the time — the next day, or on their weekend upstate. But even thinking about it had felt disloyal, an insult to Abby’s judgment, looks, her soul. When Abby phoned, barely able to announce that Marcus had slept over, what else could Ellen say but that she was happy for her? If Ellen said something now, that, and her reasons for it, would upset Abby more than Ellen’s years of saying nothing, or Marcus’ long-ago — and always after drinking — indiscretion."
A man enters an ill-fated relationship with his friend's ex-lover.
"They sat in a small, downstairs living-room with an upright piano against the wall and above the piano a portrait of her. She was wearing a dark green sweater in the picture and looking disinterestedly into her lap. The sweater had a broad neck, showing her prominent shoulder bones. She was wearing the same sweater that evening. That night they didn’t do anything but sit around and talk. There were some scores on the piano and Morgan wondered if she played. Her hair was fair and lustreless and drawn loosely back from her face. She smoked all of the time. He wondered what her relations with Sears were. She had evidently known him for a long time."
Two older writersliterary alliesdiscuss their memories, their past relationships, and their past conflicts.
"Their own sales were holding up, just about. A couple of thousand in hardback, twenty or so in paper. They still had a certain name recognition. Alice wrote a weekly column about life's uncertainties and misfortunes, though Jane thought it would be improved by more references to Alice's own life and fewer to Epictetus. "