Kirkus Reviews QR Code
HERE IS WHAT YOU DO by Chris Dennis


by Chris Dennis

Pub Date: June 25th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64129-036-4
Publisher: Soho

Dark, visceral, and wide-ranging, Dennis' debut collection delves into the humanity and pain of highly flawed characters.

In the title story, a young man in prison on a drug charge develops an intimate yet violent relationship with his cellmate. A widowed woman with a self-destructive streak finds herself on a yacht off the coast of Mexico outrunning a tsunami in "In the Martian Summer." "The Book-Eating Ceremony" follows a jaded lesbian academic with a deep resentment for her girlfriend (and her girlfriend’s gaggle of dogs) as she attempts to write a book about misogynist gynecologist Albert H. Decker while grieving her mother and obsessively pining for another woman. In "Nettles," a husband buys a slaughterhouse and moves his family out of the city only for tensions to boil over with his wife and with the religious neighbors he bought it from. "This Is a Galaxy" tracks the son of a gay Turkish immigrant who finds himself violently orphaned and working in a butcher shop. One story, "In Motel Rooms," is told from the point of view of Coretta Scott King, hounded by the FBI and carrying the burdens not only of the Jim Crow South, but of family duties and activist organizing as her husband has an affair. While King is written with more empathy and care than the other female characters in the book, it can be argued that Dennis, a white man, is not the person who should be telling the story of a black woman’s domestic pain. The stories in this collection are often bloody, brutal, and sad. The protagonists’ hopelessness (and the author’s inclination toward the grisly) is clear in one character’s observation that “it felt as if every animal were designed to be disassembled.” The relationships are dysfunctional and the interior lives of the characters scalding, the sex brutal, and the trauma acute. Dark corners of complicated people are on full display.

With a fearless voice and a diverse array of characters, Dennis’ debut delivers strong prose but tips toward the overly morbid.