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by Caitlin Horrocks

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-316-31697-2
Publisher: Little, Brown

A second short story collection from a writer known for her impeccable craft.

Horrocks’ latest is bookended by two similar stories. In the first, “The Sleep,” which also appeared in the Best American Short Stories 2011, a widower convinces first his family and then most of his hardscrabble Upper Midwestern town to hibernate for the winter. The townspeople see it as practical: They’ll save food and heat and money and, well, if it has the added effect of taking the edge off the tragedies they suffer, so much the better. In fact, the first-person-plural narrator muses, “We’re better neighbors asleep in warm beds than we ever were awake.” A fraught community is also at the fore of the final, and title, story, in which a group of scientists are part of a yearslong Mars simulation in the Arizona desert. After the group's crops fail and the terranauts begin to slowly starve, the narrator must face down the different brands of zealotry, including her own, that motivated them on their doomed experiment. Horrocks’ characters throughout are stuck at strange angles to their communities, connoisseurs of isolation. In one of the best stories, “Sun City,” a young gay woman with a history of keeping lovers at arm’s length helps to clean out her late grandmother’s place while trying to figure out if her grandmother’s garrulous roommate was actually something more. Horrocks’ stories feel classic and melancholy, like a concerto in a minor key. While the writing may feel overly polished to those who like their fiction a bit wilder, the characters’ flawed decisions add a bit of welcome roughness.

Elegant glimpses into the lives of lonely people.