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‘Good Trouble’ review: Short story collection hits more than it misses

John O’Neill has a knack for dialogue.

Joseph O'Neill is the author of

Joseph O'Neill is the author of "Good Trouble." Photo Credit: Sophia Evans / Pantheon

Short story collections can be tough to get right. Increasingly over the past decade, new volumes are stitched together from old work, forcing a decision on what to include and how far back to mine for material.

In the case of Joseph O’Neill’s new collection, “Good Trouble,” the powers that be reached a little too far into the past. The book comprises 11 stories previously published from 2003 through early 2018. The result is nine stories that are good, plus two — the oldest ones — that are a little problematic.

Among the latter is “Ponchos,” published in 2003, about a marriage strained by an inability to get pregnant. Among several awkward-reading relics of another time is a discussion of men’s rights and how women just don’t understand how tough guys have it. It may have been intended as satire, but let’s just say that it doesn’t hold up very well in 2018.

Also in this category is “The Death of Billy Joel,” from 2007, about a Florida golf outing. It includes such gems as a New Yorker marveling at the exoticism of the name Consuela.

Thankfully there are wonderful stories such as “The Sinking of the Houston,” about a father’s struggle to protect his three boys; “The World of Cheese,” about a mother who has seemingly lost the affection of her only son; and the standout “Goose,” about a middle-aged man at an old friend’s second wedding.

What remains uniformly dazzling throughout is O’Neill’s remarkable dialogue, whether it takes the form of a dismissive reply to a Facebook query or an idiotic misogynist ranting at a diner. Many of these stories have a navel-gazing quality that can be jarring given the rapid-fire pace of life today. When they succeed, it is strangely comforting.

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