Tara Ison writes stories of love, sex, and abuse, but they’re all, in the end, stories of destruction. Ostensibly set in Los Angeles (and, in one case, St. Louis), the 11 short stories collected in Ball really take place in the vast, alienated expanses of the contemporary female psyche. Ison’s protagonists, who also typically narrate their own stories, may seem normal enough at first, but they’re invariably psychologically dominated by men—boyfriends, lovers, fathers, abusers. There’s no escape, only annihilation.
A woman so grief-stricken over the death of her boyfriend that she refuses to leave her apartment for months until one night she suicides herself on a cactus shares something in common with a woman who atones for her marital infidelity by surrendering her independence, tattooing her husband’s name on her breast like a cattle brand, and literally chaining shut her vagina; they both have allowed a man to imprison their minds. Even a successful, condo-owning woman who does “fucking amazing things, all on my own” can’t escape her feelings for a longtime fuck buddy who’s clearly just not that into her. As he informs her of his engagement to another woman, she thinks of the time she gave him an inelegant blowjob: “I’ll do it right this time, be everything you want, all of it, achieve everything for you.”