This collection of satirical short stories centers on the lives of two sisters, Regina and Karina Sannikova, ambitious American women who dabble in a variety of careers, generally in the corporate world. Often employing sarcasm and exaggeration, the stories largely deliver themes of health, justice (which is more often injustice) and sexual attraction.
In “The Everlasting Gobstopper,” Karina and her “intimate partner” seek the means of achieving “more surface contact,” between their bodies, which leads them first to a man who disposes of dead livestock in a heat-pressure sterilization chamber and later to a machinist who possesses a lathe he believes might do the trick. Regina is the lucky protagonist in “The Editor,” when she helps judge a magazine’s sexiest man contest and ends up taking the winner home. And in “Auxiliary,” Karina finds herself face to face with a serial killer.
Many of these stories are smartly told and obviously informed with knowledge of the medical and judicial worlds. One of the best, “Medical School,” features interesting scenes of medical students working at dexterity drills. In the similarly accomplished “The Psychiatric Hospital,” Karina takes on a job training intern psychologists to keep a neutral expression with patients.
Other stories are less convincing. “The Air-Conditioning Queen” sees a sane Regina in a mental institution after a co-worker charges her, trips over her foot, falls over a balcony landing on a vending machine just as two men are tipping it forward to force the drop of M&Ms. Her bad luck continues in the psych ward, but ultimately presents a business opportunity. The story displays Johnson’s writing ability, but also what feels like the overuse at times of irony. Additionally, some stories feature endings that feel contrived, rather than the inevitable result of all that came before.
Overall, these are professionally written and edited and, at times, entertaining pieces, but more attention to achieving a less forced narrative arc would benefit some of the stories greatly.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.