Many of Mates' characters have experienced some sort of cultural dislocation. In "Theng," refugees from Cambodia living in Providence, Rhode Island, struggle to maintain their dignity in the face of despair and the bittersweet memories of their former home. In "Shambalileh," a Persian woman, unable to have children with her American husband, is forced to reexamine her status both as wife and foreigner. Unifying these incredibly diverse stories is the brave honesty with which the characters confront the tenuousness of their situations. For the most part, they share the tenacity of the women in "Shambalileh," who "with great caution…began to imagine the rest of her life."
The central characters in several stories are doctors, whose candid explorations of the vast moral implications of medical practice make of their lives a sort of psychic battleground between good and evil. In "The Good Doctor," a doctor torn between her dedication to medicine and her own requirements as a human being—what many of us might call her weaknesses—arrives at an intriguing conclusion. An intern in "Ambulance" risks her own well-being to save the life of a victim of gang violence.
The twelve stories in this collection are powerful and durable. The debate between good and evil is so intense that the daily experiences of Mates' characters, transformed and reorganized, become psychic quests. Mates takes us back to the fundamental question that is the fountainhead of all serious fiction: how should we live?