Following three novels (A Million Heavens, 2012, etc.), Brandon offers his first story collection: 11 offbeat, open-ended tales in which unmoored people make impulsive decisions.
"Palatka" is representative. Pauline and Mal are neighbors in a ratty rental building. The 17-year-old Mal dates recklessly, and the somewhat older Pauline feels a motherly concern, especially when Mal goes missing. But here’s the twist: Envying Mal’s free spirit, Pauline suddenly emulates it with a questionable bar pickup, leaving us in enjoyable suspense. Even more captivating is "The Picnickers." Kim is visiting Rita in Chicago for a week. They’re old friends, mid-30s, but when Rita organizes a group of women to visit an outlet mall, Kim, who’s single, prefers a field trip with Franklin, Rita’s teenage son. Franklin is a supersmart loner, and the two hit it off; he drives them to an actual field, Kim faint with desire, which is inappropriate perhaps but feels wonderful. Stories that don’t quite work are "The Midnight Gales" and "The Differing Views," both of which dabble in the surreal. In the former, members of a community are randomly abducted; in the latter, a guy in a condo, devastated after a breakup, sees seven human brains on the floor, presumably projections of his angst. What to do? Brandon seems at a loss about how to make use of those brains. He's at the top of his game with "The Inland News," taking a familiar storyline (police chief uses psychic to solve murder) and beautifully rearranging it. Sofia, done with college, lives with her adoptive uncle Tunsil, a kindly cop. Sofia has psychic powers, and to help her handle them, Tunsil arranges supervised interviews with suspects in a murder case. Sofia “sees” the murder, but that’s far from the end, as Brandon embeds the extraordinary in an otherwise ordinary life.
An impressive collection, cleareyed and penetrating.