Reading Diane Meier's collection of linked short stories Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner (plus a bonus story: Cocktails), I was reminded of those dinner parties at which, after a course or two, the male guests are required to pick up their napkins and move two places along the table - just when you've started to get to know your neighbours and found them to be fascinating, they up and off and others take their places. This has happened to me in drawing rooms after dinner, too, when a hostess, keen on circulation and ensuring everyone has a chance to talk to everyone else, instructs the men to move about the place - fine if you've been stuck with someone who is hard going, but less welcome when you're happily settled and the conversation is good.
So it was that on finishing Breakfast: The Talking Box, the opening story of this collection, I found myself wishing it hadn't come to an end but would go on, because just as I was beginning to feel at home in the world of a top-flight marketing expert and her Michigan fashion shoot for a well-known chain of department stores, wanting to know more and see how these characters and situations would play out at closer acquaintance, their piece was done and we were on to the next story. This is perhaps why so many people read little short fiction, preferring the 'full meal' of the novel to the 'single course' of the shorter form.
But move on we must, and in Lunch: Tap and Toe an unpleasant New York billionaire businessman calls on an old acquaintance - who is now a successful advertising agency boss - for help with a newly acquired company. Money talks, they say, but Carrie isn't about to listen, even though the famous Matt Mollinsky once held her in thrall.
Dinner: Slip of the Tongue is an intriguing many-layered, dinner table conversation among a group of creative people at which some chewy topics come up for discussion, and then in Cocktails, a cocktail party is the scene of a moment of disquieting revelation for Bernadette Lowell, one of the characters from Diane's lovely novel The Season of Second Chances who happens to be the subject of her forthcoming book, from a chapter of which this stand-alone story has been taken.
The linking themes are those of style and self, of 'positioning' - defining a brand and its market, or a person, their history, the face they choose to present to the world, and the doors which will open to them according to those choices. Each piece is sharp, witty, ironic, its scenes well drawn, its characters fleshed out as much as the medium will allow, and each one - as I said earlier - leaves the reader wanting more.