This arresting debut short story collection often finds its protagonists poised between disaster and redemption.
It’s not always easy to foresee how the stories in Smith’s collection will end. In “Mercy,” recently widowed Pam is doing her best to take care of her young kids and the animals on her horse farm, but things keep dying: the kids’ puppy, the kittens, goldfish, a duckling, the barn cat, some chicks and goats. Even the hamster has gone missing. When Pam distractedly lets her beloved Thoroughbred, Ace, get into the grain bin—“even an hour of gorging on grain could kill a horse,” the reader has been warned—it looks like the death toll on the farm will climb further. Will it? “Rutting Season” follows a chain of office misery—Ray the computer guy’s unrequited crush on Lisa, in fundraising, prompts a lunchroom encounter in which Ray treats his assistant, Carl, cruelly—that may lead to a workplace shooting. Can an unexpected act of kindness deflect the violence? “Siege” also hinges on a decision about whether to come out shooting or surrender to life’s disappointments and injustices. Will Amber, a young woman who picks up her late mother’s boyfriend’s gun after he has been killed, choose violence or victimhood…or both? Yet the unpredictability of the nine stories here, many of which deal with matters of life and death, is only part of their charm. Nuanced and empathetic, at times dangerous, tragic, or redemptive, these stories find their subjects in the midst of pivotal moments in their lives, as they struggle with impulses and actions both animalistically urgent and deeply, hauntingly human.
At once powerful and delicate, compassionate and cleareyed, this book is sure to breed interest in a new literary voice.