By Helen Simpson
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.00, 165 pages

Writers are like athletes. Making a game-winning play can erase the embarrassment caused by dropping a ball or missing a pass. But when things go in the opposite direction, audiences find it harder to forgive. Helen Simpson’s earlier short story collections, including the fantastic and witty Getting a Life, smashed the ball out of the park. Unfortunately her latest collection, In-Flight Entertainment: Stories, does little to showcase her considerable talent. The title story is meant to be a sad commentary on personal selfishness and hypocrisy set against the topic of climate change.  But the characters are so unlikeable that the reader quickly loses interest. “Scan,” which follows a woman through a medical procedure that will drastically change her life, shows more promise because the main character is interesting and compelling. Yet the story itself is over before we know it, leaving a sense that Simpson could have done so much more with it. The rest of the collection will have readers feeling similar mixed emotions. Simpson’s characters are annoying and the engrossing ones are whisked away prematurely. It’s an exasperating experience. Short story lovers should seek out Simpson’s earlier work where she brings a spark to the mundane lives of ordinary people. Let us all hope her next collection is a game changer.

Reviewed by Ellison Weist