In his debut story collection, The Kind I’m Likely To Get, Ken Foster writes about people who, like Ruth in the story “Happy People,” expect “very little, because there were times, when she was young, when she’d expected too much—and from all the wrong people.” Foster’s characters travel through life like the Flintstones visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, “visiting the site of their own demise….Like they already knew their fate but were completely detached from it.”
A virtuoso of the mise-en-scène, Foster skillfully evokes the ennui of his driftwood cast as they float between dead-end jobs and relationships. As the divorced bookstore clerk in “Remainders” describes it, “None of us seemed to be here, doing anything, entirely of our own conscious volition.” This lack of volition sometimes leads to the seedier side of life: a man in “Two Windows” finds himself turning tricks, charging fees based on “an equation of how bored I’ll be divided by how bored I am,” while the unnamed narrator of “Another Shoot” spends his days scoring drugs for a movie star. Something has gone wrong in these people’s lives, yet they are utterly—and sometimes annoyingly—incapable of fixing it. As a character in “The Circuit” notes of his compadres: “It’s like there’s a switch that’s been turned off inside and they don’t know how to turn it back on.”
While some stories wallow in this almost fashionable sense of dislocation, others go beyond it to show its corrosive consequences. The collection’s best sequence shows how a couple named Mary and John stumble into a relationship, hoping against the odds to find happiness. In the end, they wind up suffering its demise with muted disappointment. Foster’s deadpan delivery mirrors his cast’s baffled detachment, but also rises above it—the stories, unlike their subjects, suggest an escape. In spite of their failures, Foster’s characters are vulnerable to the notion that “you can make anything out of the stars if you know where to draw the lines.” Unfortunately for them, they just can’t figure out how to do that.