From Avery (A Curious Host, 2016, etc.), a macabre collection of short stories that meanders into sci-fi territory.
Vivid characters from the fringes populate these pages. Readers meet Dr. Henry Woodridge, a dentist “hemorrhaging any affection he may have once felt” for his wife of 32 years in “When the Magic Disappears.” In “The Fortune Teller,” Maria has her fortune read by a Roma who predicts she’ll become an Osteomorph, a fantastical creature that “must have bones that are light and free from density.” “The Captain” follows a Navy vet who longs to set sail in his own boat, so he builds one…only to discover it won’t fit through the door frame. Nature is a recurring theme. “The Frog” contemplates how an amphibian rose to the top of the forest animals’ administration, while “A Morning Spill” speaks from the perspective of the bay, the sun, and a gull. The author also plays with form, crafting an obituary to a Siamese fighting fish in “Good-Bye Mr. Fish” and using letters from one woman to another, sans responses, in “Letters to Kay.” Avery paints an impressive picture of the natural world with atmospheric descriptions, like “the day dripped gray all morning” and tree leaves that “curl as crisp as pork rinds.” Character descriptions are equally sharp. Miss Geller’s “narrow red lips extended into a scarlet crinkle,” and Gary “smelled like bologna from breakfast.” Unfortunately, many of these stories lack surprise. In “Hungry Hill,” a woman’s Himalayan kitten disappears under suspicious circumstances after she leaves it with several ne’er-do-wells. In “When the Magic Disappears,” Dr. Woodridge plots to poison his wife with radiation only to discover something the reader may too easily guess. The handful of prose poems proves diverting enough but doesn’t add to the overall narrative.
Cleareyed observations and a unique cast improve this predictable collection.