Twenty short stories about people in the muted extremes of ordinary lives.
Jemc’s (The Grip of It, 2017, etc) stories revel in disquiet. Sometimes this uneasiness is the palpable result of external forces, as in “Don’t Let’s,” in which a woman seeking solitude in the aftermath of an assault may or may not be haunted by a boo hag. Sometimes they expand into gleeful expressions of the macabre, as in “Get Back,” an unrepentant litany of gruesome deaths narrated by the succubuslike murderer herself; or in “Strange Loop,” where the ex-con main character, John, “forget[s] the trembling urges he kept in check” through his total immersion in taxidermy. More often, however, the stories nudge up against confrontational situations that they then allow to dissipate. In “Manifest,” Bernadette’s seemingly plot-instigating encounter with a man with “movie-star good looks” in the plastic surgeon’s office is left behind as the story veers toward an exploration of her determined isolation. In the wonderfully eerie “Hunt and Catch,” the multiple perils that accompany Emily’s commute home from work—a stalking dump truck driver; an overly attentive good Samaritan; her own suddenly unreliable perceptions—are left outside her locked door as she attends to the “quiet dark[ness]” of her private life. In “Maulawiyah,” one of the longer and more conventionally structured stories in the collection, Raila is on a mindfulness retreat where her best intentions toward introspection are interrupted by the pitch-perfect Lisa, whose irritating narcissism Jemc chooses to neither elevate into malevolence nor excuse by way of empathetic backstory. Instead Raila and Lisa are allowed to linger in the singular moment of their relationship in a way that resonates for the reader more like a memory of their own discomfort than it does a story aiming toward a purposeful conclusion. Jemc’s insistence on her stories’ rights not to resolve their dilemmas is the thread that binds this book together, though too many similarly disaffected characters make the stories difficult to digest back to back. The result is a collection that will disappoint a reader looking for a tightly controlled narrative arc but delight one willing to learn how these particular stories want to be read.
Tense, well-imagined stories whose tendencies to unravel mirror the characters they chronicle.