This cohesive debut collection of seven stories, most taking place in the San Francisco Bay Area, revolves around the notion of rescue.
When nature is out of whack, humankind tends to pay the price. In these stories, as toxic landscapes pose a threat to individuals and communities, several characters undergo grotesque transformations or enter virtually catatonic states. In “Wawona,” a teenage girl unable to move after a surfing accident finds herself stuck in the back of her panicked boyfriend’s truck. Another predominant motif centers on water in a variety of forms: ocean, reservoir, rain, mist, fog; in Brunicardi’s narratives, this normally life-giving substance becomes volatile and dangerous. The title character of “The Quickening of Ethan Boyd” comes into contact with a contaminated stream and slowly slips into an altered state of being. In the final lines, a touching farewell to his beloved wife takes a bizarre turn and suggests a bloody, chaotic aftermath: “My sulfurous teeth await your soft shoulder.” In a compact space, the author constructs well-paced narratives with adequate character development and mounting suspense. For instance, descriptions of the elderly couple under siege in “Mountainous”—“Gordon looked at his wife of forty one years. She seemed so small and frail standing there in the middle of the room, like a frightened animal”—give readers a clear sense of the lifetime they have spent together and the sacrifices each partner is willing to make for the other as they confront demons. Not all of these tales rely upon fantastical elements to pack a punch. The most realistic story, “The Seeds of Antipathy,” is perhaps the hardest hitting. When his young son nearly drowns, Blake decides to face a tragic event from his past that he has unsuccessfully tried to forget. Boarding a plane, “He began to doze and was immediately awakened by the gliss of a pearly clarinet as the airline’s adopted theme song was piped into the cabin.” In one of the book’s most haunting images, a clarinet case eerily floats on the water’s deceptively calm surface.
A promising first effort, deliciously creepy and often moving.