Debut author Mitchell offers a collection of seven Arkansas-based tales that explore the somber sides of marriage, familial relationships, and everyday life.
In the opening story, “Animal Lovers,” a woman named Dee insists on taking custody of the dogs, Ralph and Mickey, when she divorces her husband, Carter. But when the canines’ behavioral issues escalate, she thinks that she might be better off without them, after all. Mitchell’s book is filled with characters relentlessly finding flaws in themselves and others—including flaws that aren’t there. For example, Tonya in “Pyramid Schemes” is certain that her spouse, Randy, disapproves of her weight, although he’s given no indication of that. Likewise, in “Retreat,” Layton suspects that his co-worker Gary is one of the three baseball-bat–wielding assailants who beat him in a dark parking lot months before, though he has no proof of this. These imperfect characters are continually intriguing, as is the conflicted protagonist who robs a bank in “This Trailer is Free,” who’s unquestionably sympathetic. However, these stories aren’t entirely humorless. High schooler Libby, for instance, narrates “Not from Here” in a delightfully blunt voice; regarding Ronnie, a bus driver she befriends, she notes, “I think sometimes that he might make a good husband, but I’m not in love with him and I don’t expect I will be.” The author’s stark writing style examines details with an unflinching eye, much as the characters do, and the occasional moments of violence are haunting. The stories are linked not only by their common location, but also by recurring players, which allows for unexpected, additional character development. For instance, Dee returns in “Retreat,” which further delves into a relationship that was mentioned in her earlier tale.
Engaging stories that highlight extraordinary moments in the lives of ordinary people.