A debut volume—13 stories, mostly about off-kilter people haunted by the damaged world that surrounds them—that's notable for its supple, original style, and especially for dialogue that's convincing and various. Hawkes's characters are never quite sure where the boundary between the concrete and the psychic world is located, and his plots often swing on such disoriented responses. ``At the Walls of Jericho,'' originally published in The Atlantic, is typical: a man called Prophet locks himself in a paint locker aboard a ship and plans to stay there until he gets to ``the war.'' The ensuing conversation—how to talk him out, what machinery to us to get him out—is clever and appropriately absurd. ``Surveyor'' is a long account of two people who try to protect their area of New Mexico from a group they call the Dinosaur Men by destroying bones and evidence of alien landings: again, the external facts are less compelling than the haunted interior response of the damaged desert exiles. The title story, likewise, concerns a woman who witnesses a ``Small Storm in Her House,'' blue electricity pouring from a wall socket, leading her son to put her in the Mother's Ward—here, too, the story succeeds because the idiosyncratic point of view is central. In ``Hobgoblins,'' a farmer explains the death of a friend, another farmer, not by reference to cancer but by the invocation of hobgoblins, the Midwest equivalent of gremlins. The remaining stories work in similar fashion—when they fail, they seem just a bit too clever, as in ``Family Tag,'' where a husband and wife invite a Norwegian surrogate into their home, and she quickly displaces the wife in the husband's affections. Still, an impressive first collection. Hawkes ranges through space and delivers an original take on the world in a voice that's compelling. Besides The Atlantic, some of the stories appeared in The Missouri Review and Ploughshares.
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