The latest collection from Slouka (Brewster, 2013, etc.), whose work has won an O. Henry Prize and appeared in Best American Short Stories, features 15 crisp, poignant, mostly downbeat tales.
In the tender "Dominion," an elderly husband and wife, long married, find their home increasingly surrounded by coyotes and have to discover whether they have enough resilience left to withstand the invaders—the howling coydogs outside but also the slower, stealthier encroachments of death. "Half-Life" features a long-term shut-in—she glimpses her house's facade in a shot of a passing ambulance on the news, and it's the first time she's seen the front yard in 16 years—fighting off an unexpected kind of intruder. "Then" is a lovely, nostalgic story built around a brief chance meeting, 40-odd years later, of sexagenarian former lovers who are feeling their age. She invites him, in parting, to think of her sometime: of her "then." Which he does for the rest of the story, restoratively, and for a while the aches and jaded jokes and sadness of age are banished. In "Conception," a young couple at the end of their tethers—and perhaps at an end of their marriage—are brought back from the brink by an encounter with future infirmity in the form of a naked, fallen neighbor. A son tries vainly to protect his Holocaust survivor father from painful memories in the haunting "The Hare's Mask." And in "Crossing," a father trying to reconnect with his son and his own boyhood by re-creating the back-country campout he used to do with his dad finds himself in trouble as he fords a snowmelt-swelled river with his son on his back.
These are subtle, meditative, well-crafted stories, death-backed but life-affirming.