Human predicaments are complemented by the wild natural world in this excellent debut story collection from Chicago-based author Geni.
The characters and events here are unusual and far-reaching, but Geni’s careful craftsmanship renders them immediate and real. Each story is threaded with page-turning, deeply felt tension, yet each has also been planted with a seed of magic in varying stages of growth. In the collection’s award-winning piece, “Captivity,” the narrator works at the Chicago Aquarium, specializing in octopuses, which she feeds in-tank, wetsuit-clad, while haunted by her missing brother. In “Terror Birds,” an ordinary family drama plays out with high stakes on an ostrich farm in the desert. “Isaiah on Sunday” and “In the Spirit Room” explore the loss of parents; “Landscaping” (the seed of magic here growing away from realism into striking lyricism) and “Fire Blight” show heartache from the parents’ sides. Broken families are a theme, and the people in these stories experience the fallout with unflinching awareness. Likewise, Geni is not afraid to make readers sit with an uncomfortable situation or watch characters struggle with difficult decisions. “Dharma at the Gate” follows a teenage girl and her dog as she contemplates a relationship that’s holding her back; readers will ache for her freedom. “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” has an anonymous narrator—the protagonists are bunked together in a camp cabin the summer their counselor disappears. “The Last Animal” and “Silence” center on older characters looking for a kind of closure, and both have a quieter tension.
An entrancing collection, recommended even for those who generally shy away from short story.