Winner of the Pen / Hemingway Award, this collection, or at least 3/4 stories, are centered on moral ambiguities that arise from white privilege. There are white people who go voluntarily to the “hardest places” (Haiti, Sierra Leone, etc.) and are faced with choices about themselves and the worlds they now occupy. Fountain’s protagonists struggle with conflicts, both internal and otherwise, about how to survive in the places where they now find themselves. What do they have to compromise? These are people generally trying to be good, or at least get by, in very complicated worlds. Do we really begrudge the divorced father trying to make it as a golf pro in Myanmar?
The star of the collection is “The Lion’s Mouth.” Jill agrees to do one errand in exchange for the funds that will allow her to support something she’s created, a kind of co-op. If she can provide these funds to this co-op, she will, in her mind, “allowed to leave” (172). But during this extremely dangerous errand, she is confronted with another choice and sacrifices her funds to do what she thinks, at that moment, is the right thing. She seems heroic, but then Fountain punctuates the story in such a startling way that brings home the notion that in some places, the right thing is not as simple as it might seem.