There are 23 short stories in this debut collection. Many are around 10 pages. Some are a little over a page. One is a paragraph and a sentence. That sentence reads this way: “In fiction, it’s never benign.”
You can say that again.
So what are Rebecca Schiff’s stories about? Certainly not much that’s “benign” about contemporary life, which, come to think of it, isn’t all that benign anyway. The stories in “The Bed Moved” are about:
The internet: “My Allergies Will Charm You” deals with the hazards — and ongoing regeneration — of online dating between people who have done so too many times.
Being understood: “Communication Arts” is a brilliant look at the fact that technology can never be the answer to human relationships.
Boyfriends: “Welcome Lilah” concerns a visit to a boyfriend’s childhood home, on the cusp of signaling him that the relationship is about to end.
Pot growers: “It Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal” examines the choices made by the New York companion of a down-on-his-luck pot grower at a California “clothing optional resort.”
Plastic surgery: “Rate Me” is a devastatingly funny response to our world’s insatiable desire to remold ourselves.
Cancer: In “The Lucky Lady,” a young “volunteer” agrees to help a man whose cancer is in need of “celebrity.” The fundraiser thrown becomes a biting commentary on how we “think” we are living our lives.
Being sorta Jewish: In “The Bed Moved,” lifestyle bumps up against life for a young Jewish woman.
Growing up: In “Longviewers,” a new teen watches her parents ignore her coming of age despite the love she feels for them.
Not growing up: “Phyllis” is the heartbreaking story of a woman with a great body for a grandmother, but not much else.
There’s a lot of confusion in “The Bed Moved” about how to live. The voices of the stories are those of young women, women who often “use electronic devices to forget where we were.”
These women dangle in the present, overwhelmed by it. Nothing learned from the older generation — except, maybe, self-absorption — can prepare those women for the future. Too many find themselves stuck in “a narrow web connecting us to those who would never love us back.”
Yet “The Bed Moved” is hardly tiresome. It can sometimes be caustic, but it can also be tender. It is always incisive.
Rebecca Schiff’s eye is discomfiting, but her stories are always deeply funny and always deeply felt. She doesn’t simply know her characters; she knows them very, very well. There’s nothing at all “benign” about her fiction.
Steven Whitton is a professor of English at Jacksonville State University.