A resonant collection of short stories set in rural North Dakota, many of which have previously appeared in literary magazines, that establishes Van Winckel as a talent to be watched. Rising above life's losses emerges as the dominant theme of these interconnected stories, all of which revolve around Martha, an intelligent, sensitive girl, and her family. Throughout the book Martha grows from an observant child with an ability to revel in life's oddities to a grown woman and successful veterinarian who finds happiness in her imperfect world. (""I hear tragedy coming, and I point the way to rescue,"" she says of herself.) In the wistful and tenderly detailed ""Tell That to the River,"" a bizarre boating accident enables Martha to understand her family members' strengths and how they complement one another -- on what is their last vacation together. In ""Volunteer,"" Martha, a rebellious teen after her father's death, finds the discipline she needs as a hospital candy striper and becomes interested in healing as she nurtures the sick and dying. In ""Good Riddance,"" Martha, now a young veterinarian who has eschewed a boutique business in favor of caring for area livestock, delivers a baby lamb and struggles to overcome the stereotype that only men can handle rough farm work. Other stories, like ""Apprentice"" and ""Gone Fingers,"" do not advance the plot as much as they provide the memorable characters (the dotty weaver who lives next door and wins a lottery, and Martha's stepfather, who is missing several fingers) and sensitive observations that make this collection so affecting. While some of her stories are uneven and others do not follow one another smoothly, Van Winckel's thoughtful writing and evocative details redeem the flaws in this impressive debut.