echt is the Xanax princess of wry, a kind of Gregory House in drag. She’s made a career of blending idiosyncratic wit with panic attacks. She juxtaposes apples and asteroids to milk get to droll. But these seven vaguely connected stories work so hard to mock middle-aged crankiness that humor often yields to melancholy and melancholy to the didactic. Reminiscing toward the end of the title story, she writes: “I’d gone from that beautiful morning of childhood to this kind of middle-of-the-night morning…” Which sums up this Nantucket septet.
You can be sure Hecht deplores the 2000s (“the horrible new century,” “the terrible 2000s”), still loves JFK and Elvis, takes her vegan-ness to extremes (she’d date Paul McCartney), calls “so-called president” George W. Bush by his real name, Alfred E. Neuman, and hates computers (“even the wireless silver Apple I owned for emergencies.”) In story after story, the modern world (“the new junk world of America”) makes her crazy. She acquiesces, but not without all kinds of phobic anxiety, some of it very funny. The only good things about modern technology are Tampax and caller ID. Suspicious of news, she watches the Weather Channel. Or the History Channel (“It was often Hitler week on the History Channel.”) She rues ignorance and the so-called president’s war in Iraq (“The sound of the word was like a weapon.”) Jamaican hired help short on English irks her (“It would be good if the foreign employees, when trained for work, were shown a film on Nantucket history.”) This, she presumes (taking the role of Miss Jean Brodie), would cut down on idiotic questions.
But there’s the rub. When eccentricity gets this deadpan it’s hard to know what side irony’s on. On the one hand, the computer is “that horrible thing” or simply “the thing,” on the other Paul McCartney’s Google Alert gives her the inside scoop on rock star vegetarianism. Hecht is a self-made “attempted grown-up” with child-like hard-headedness, which is part of her charm. Too often, though, estrangement trumps wit. She ends the story “Cramp Bark” with the line “I didn’t know anyone at all,” and soon follows that up with “I had no circle.” Now more than ever it’s laugh to keep from crying, and pass the Ebola spinach.