Venus in the Afternoon, Lieberman’s debut book and winner of the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in short fiction, boasts nine powerfully told and well-executed short stories. The opening story, “The Way I See It,” features a gruff window-washer narrator who spies on the domestic scenes of others while also gaining new perspective on his life. In a striking first-person voice, he grieves for his wife — in one poignant scene going to the library to find out what kinds of books she liked. In “Reinventing Olivia,” we observe the dissolution of a relationship between a financial analyst and a creative writing teacher, while in “Cul de Sac” we follow the interweaving and vexed lives of neighbors for whom very little can truly be kept secret. “Fault Lines” is a heart-rending tragedy — told only through fragments — of a life that begins in an orphanage; it is delicious melodrama with a stunning ending. “Waltz on East 6th Street” and “Anya’s Angel” engage with the Holocaust: its legacy and its power over contemporary lives.
Throughout, Lieberman is interested in our not-so-private lives and the coincidences that persistently connect us to others. Perhaps more than any other piece in the collection, the title story reveals Lieberman’s wry attitude toward everyday life — the subject of the narrator’s affections is an avant-garde performance artist — and also her hopeful vision in the face of adversity. Given these wonderfully crafted stories, one has to wonder if Lieberman, an experienced travel writer, will eventually take on the longer form of a novel or travel memoir, in addition to, hopefully, many more stories in the future.