Randall Klein juggles time in tale of tragedy and chaos involving two New York couples.

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Book review

The shared birthday of their sons initially connects Michael and Rebecca to Paul and Jenny. While the women labor, the husbands introduce themselves, sharing a smoke and shot of bourbon just off hospital grounds in anticipation of becoming fathers. One month later, Michael and Rebecca are juggling jobs and parenthood while Paul and Jenny are grieving over the loss of their baby. Jenny is unhinged; Paul can’t reach her. Michael, while enamored with his child, is uncomfortably bound by routine. Thus marks the beginning of a precarious friendship.

Randall Klein’s “Little Disasters” doesn’t start here though. The book opens with present-day Michael on the morning he and Jenny plan to leave their spouses and start a grand life together. When Jenny fails to show up, Michael heads toward home, only to discover subways and cellphone service shut down due to a mysterious event in Manhattan. From here, scenes alternate between present day and the past 12 months, where various shades of disaster creep into more than one aspect of the couples’ lives.

New York City pulses in the background of the characters’ chaos. Michael trudges through the blistering streets, wildly focused on getting back to Brooklyn. Initially his determination proves perplexing, but events of the previous year slowly emerge, building the case for his intensity. Meanwhile, Paul feels his way through the darkness of a scorching subway tunnel, clueless as to what awaits him on the surface.

Klein mixes sharp inner monologue with conflicted action to nudge his narrative along at a fitting pace, painting detailed backstories along the way. With refreshingly authentic humor and jagged characters, this debut depicts marriage at its greediest, and by the end, readers may find themselves torn over which relationships to root for.

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Little Disasters” by Randall Klein, Viking, 352 pp., $27