Second acts always carry expectations, but for those following a bona fide literary smash of a debut, the bar is set awfully high. And if Emma Cline’s readers were holding out hope that she’d top her explosive breakout The Girls with a more seductive charge, well, a suggestive title like Daddy could hardly dash it. Yet this pitch-black collection of 10 stories emerges as its own kind of success by quietly rushing in another direction.
None of the plots will elicit much intrigue on topic alone: A father confronts his mistakes in “Northeast Regional,” a retail employee contends with harassment in “Los Angeles,” a nanny escapes the fallout of her affair with a celebrity in, yes, “The Nanny.” It’s the stuff of niche literary darlings, not blockbuster best-sellers. The pieces soar independently — dark slices of life confidently weaving between styles — and in unison, portraits of young women seeking liberation, of older men doing wrong. True, the standout — “Marion,” a dizzyingly complex tale unfurling from an 11-year-old girl’s mind—feels closer to what made Cline a household name, but Daddy’s biggest reward lies in her showing us something new.