Shaun Haurin’s debut collection of short stories, Public Displays of Affectation, offers a subtle and emotionally complex examination of the ties that bind. For the most part, the characters in this collection are looking for love — romantic and otherwise — which is fitting, given the setting: all of the stories take place in and around Philadelphia, widely known as the City of Brotherly Love. In many instances, the love is forbidden, as in “Best Man,” which finds a not-so-young-anymore bachelor pining away for his best friend’s wife. That the best friend is himself engaged in an extra-marital affair only adds to the would-be lover’s dilemma. After all, doesn’t the object of his affection deserve more than to be cuckolded by an unfaithful husband? As with all of the stories in this collection, the answers to such questions are never easy to come by.
Other stories in the collection find Haurin exploring the love between parents and children. In one heartbreaking instance, a story titled “Bloodsucker,” a grown man dons a vampire costume in order to catch a glimpse of his estranged daughter on Halloween. Elsewhere, in a story titled “Me, Tarzan,” a boy named Sammartino Hayes wants nothing more than to be able to respect his father, a frustrated illustrator who dreams of hitting the big time with a cartoon canine named Bobo Lazarus. At nearly one-hundred pages, this latter story could likely stand on its own as a novella, yet its attention to the frustrating and often conflicting desires that motivate the human heart makes it the jewel in the crown of this intelligent and moving collection.
With a keen eye for the telling detail and a well-tuned ear for dialogue, Haurin explores the myriad shades of gray that shroud adulthood and haunt the contemporary heart, thus rendering Public Displays of Affectation a compelling and emotionally intelligent collection.