The feeling of living on the edge of a breaking point permeates these 16 rich, finely crafted stories.
Set throughout the South, these stories explore themes of isolation and the monotony of daily life, especially when that life is lived slightly apart from the rest of the world. Pease's lead characters are often reaching toward something more: A reclusive family of faith hikes to a waterfall in hopes of healing a sick baby even though it's clear the life is draining out of his too-tiny body (“Submission”); a lonely young mother tries to find connection with her pastor husband’s collection of snakes and the girls who attend a nearby camp (“Primitive”); a college girl engages in a brief, secretive relationship with a cab driver in an effort to present herself as older and worldly (“The After-Life"). Interspersed between the longer stories are short bursts of flash fiction: a page or two at most that capture a seemingly ordinary moment only to reveal the fraught emotion tangled at its core. Though some stories are set as far back as the post–Vietnam War era (“The Blaming Heart”; “Church Retreat, 1975”), others hint at being more modern with mentions of Hannah Montana (“Birthday I”) and medical alert bracelets (“Hearing Is the Last Thing To Go”), yet all revel in the strangeness of uneasy relationships, whether with oneself or others. Pease’s debut collection is precise in its wording and raw and complex in its subject matter. Her characters are all poised at a precipice, though some realize this more than others, and are often surprised at how stark and ordinary the world is after a defining moment. Pease’s prose demands attention and refuses to let readers avert their gazes from the near-constant sense of approaching disaster, a steady thrum of quiet doom. And yet, each story is all the more enticing because the humanity of the characters is not overshadowed by plot.
A compelling examination of what it means to survive when thriving seems to be an option only for other people.