Canadian story-writer Willis' second collection, following Vanishing and Other Stories (2010), confirms her debut's promise and extends its range.
The 13 stories collected here include two free-standing but related tales featuring Eddie, a cable installer who in the first, "Todd," finds himself—recently banished and without custody of his 10-year-old daughter—sucked into a bewildering domestic partnership with a crow, a partnership that ends in explosive violence and sorrow. There's also a final triptych, "Steve and Lauren: Three Love Stories," in which Willis makes deft, delicate use of the unreal or magical (a literal hole in the living-room carpet, an extramarital infatuation that literally stops a watch from ticking, an enchanted time-traveling nap) first to defamiliarize a long and apparently stable, loving marriage—to make it strange—and then to persuade the reader to believe in it deeply, in all its messy particulars, and to find it heartbreaking. "Girlfriend on Mars" delivers just what its title promises: it is the first-person lament of a bereft young man, a cultivator of hydroponic marijuana, who discovers only belatedly that his girlfriend and business partner has tried out for a reality-show competition whose prize is the right to blast off (and never return) as one of the first two permanent settlers on the red planet. Other stories belong to a more traditional realist mode. As was the case in Willis' previous collection, several—for instance the title piece and "Welcome to Paradise," about two teens who break into houses for the brief, thrilling feeling of occupying someone else's life—center on female friendship, especially intense adolescent ones looked back upon in celebration and lament.
These are low-key stories of great acuity, precision, and poignancy.