Zev Good's debut short story collection, A Map of the World, is the rare book where the most damning criticism is that maybe it's too real. Put in a different way, it occupies the dubious position of being so good that it demands to be judged against the authorial pantheon.
Good needs an editor. He deserves an editor. A Map of the World is a self-published work, and there is the occasional unthinking or unnoticed typo. And some of the stories seem to end too quickly.
And that's it. Those are the only real flaws. And is the former a flaw? Good traffics in slices of life, and his writing is accurate to its source material. The majesty of a story like The Color of my True Love's Hair, where a man navigates caring for his partner in the wake of a traumatic brain injury, is in the journey, not the end. Life ends with death; one has the sense that Zev Good's stories, largely, do not end so much as depart from their characters. These stories go on without us. And so from time to time the endings are, if not jarring, then at least disappointing. But they are disappointing because Good has managed to make the reader love his characters, and we root for them, even in tragedy. We don't want to leave them.
Is this a flaw? Perhaps. Good has trapped himself in a place where we must compare him to literary giants. Some of his stories evoke a less overtly-shocking Tama Janowitz, or Raymond Carver if he had lived to see the new millennium. And so, one is forced to wonder, would Janowitz or Carver have found an artful way to depart from their stories without warning? Would Proulx have made us love her for her denial of our desire? Good's work is charming, affecting, tight, and heartbreaking in the quiet way anyone who's lived will know too well. And he is good enough in his debut to be held to an incredible standard.
A Map of the World is not America. One is loathe to call any book evocative of the singular America, because that demands one accept the existence of a singular America in the first place. But Good has given us an intimate window into one of the many Americas that do exist. Our anxiety about mass shootings, the peculiar experience of life-long love birthed in stultifying suburbs and followed through the realization of adulthood, illnesses internal and external, the specific challenges experienced by gay men, by Jewish men, by southern men, all of these inform the stories in A Map of the World. As gestalt, they are indicative of a way to survive the pitfalls of that particular America with a modicum of grace. And so one comes away from A Map of the World with the feeling endemic to excellent writing, that one has learned something important about how to be a person.
All of this should inform one's understanding of the following statement: Zev Good has written a collection of short stories that is very nearly a masterpiece. He is an author to watch. Likely he will produce more great works in his time, and the literary canon is lucky to have him.