Josh Gross’s collection of short fiction (or collection of nonfiction, or fictionalized nonfiction, or some combination of all of the above, depending on how you look at it) span a variety of both funny and distressing topics. A barista tries to treat a homeless man like a human being much to the chagrin of his boss and coworkers, a young couple deals with an abortion, a girl kidnaps a cat, and more than a few people get their hearts stepped on. More than anything, though, these stories are about the often painful experience of growing up.
The collection, aptly titled Secrets & Lies, is composed of stories that feel incredibly honest while others are more like a jolting romp through imagination. It’s difficult to tell where the nuggets of truth are in these stories, but all of them have an intensity of spirit and depth that can’t be denied.
His first story, “The Dog House,” is arguably one of the best stories in the collection. It tells the story of a young couple buying a dog together (a droopy-eared lovable mutt named Elvis) but this, like many of Gross’s stories, is really about the complicated world of relationships. It’s about the feelings of alienation and confusion that come from being left behind, whether you be dog or man. At times funny, at many times heartbreaking, this story pulls at the heartstrings and the funny bone almost equally.
One of the shortest pieces (barely five pages long) titled “Echoes” is incredibly simple and yet undeniably poignant. Written as a dialogue between a couple, it’s a conversation I would bet all writers have had with a lover at some point in their lives. The girl is asking her writer boyfriend why he never writes about her, and the discussion unwinds from there ending in his incredibly stirring one line response (sorry, no spoilers here!).
Probably the most shocking story in the collection, “One Friday in April,” is about a couple dealing with abortion and the painful aftermath of this unhappy event. What makes this story different from other abortion stories you may have read is that it comes from the honest perspective of the man. He isn’t the archetypal jerk who leaves the girl to deal with it herself, nor is he the perfect boyfriend gently smoothing away tears and promising eternal devotion. He is a human being going through an unpleasant and confusing experience with someone who is often closed off and uncommunicative. That’s what Gross does best- he writes stories about real people and how they would really react in these situations.
Summarizing these stories doesn’t do them justice. They are incredibly real and familiar, and while they are fiction, often it feels as if these stories are your own. These are the kinds of soul-molesting stories that are difficult to forget, and would be a shame to miss out on.