SOMETIMES HANIF KUREISHI wastes no time starting a short story: "All week Bill had been looking forward to this moment. He was about to fuck the daughter of the man who had fucked his wife." Kureishi's not doing it for the shock value: He just prefers to get in and out as quickly as possible, composing each story as a short depiction of modern life.
In Love in a Blue Time, a collection of short stories written over the past decade, Kureishi (the screenwriter of Sammy and Rosey Get Laid and My Beautiful Laundrette) follows the social aftershocks of the '60s out of modern middle-class London and into the greater world and the lives of bohemians and immigrants. Fortysomethings and their children love and fight, use and abuse, some aggressively pursuing careers and status, others living on the dole, all treading water in a murky sea of infidelities and frustrations.
Kureishi has no trouble mocking the past and present aspirations of his characters with a wry, flat cynicism: "Bill recalled the slogans that had decorated Paris in those days. 'Everything is Possible,' 'Take Your Desires for Realities,' 'It Is Forbidden to Forbid.' He'd once used them in a TV commercial." Still, what keeps the stories of Love fresh is that even when the characters are utterly lost, they remain sympathetic enough to sustain interest, even if their efforts are by turns misguided, bitter, or just plain embarrassing. (In "D'Accord, Baby," a middle-aged man returns to a collegiate pretension, making up his mind to better himself by reading all "the most dense and intransigent" books and "swallow the thickest pills of understanding.")
Kureishi does well to keep that sympathy; without it, the stories in Love in a Blue Time would collapse. The author's tales whirl blindingly without actually moving: The men and women of his London fall in and out of love, commit adulteries, and sign contracts, but nobody has the self-awareness to make any conscious changes to his or her life. Sometimes, if they're lucky, they happen on some fleeting wisdom: "He had some impression that happiness was beyond him and everything was coming down, and that life could not be grasped but only lived." Kureishi's stories are a little that way, too. They're too flighty to ever truly get used to, but they linger long after they've closed the door and left the flat for good.