These stories from a Canadian writer feature characters at odds with their surroundings—and each other.
In her debut collection, Cooper proves that she can do just about anything. She's as comfortable telling a story from the perspective of a hip young record-label employee—which she actually is, in her day job—whose hand is blown off by a mail bomb (“Ryan & Irene, Irene & Ryan”) as she is telling the story of a mounted police officer who lives on the edge of loss and violence (“The Emperor”). Her settings are equally wide-ranging. A Vietnam War veteran lives out his retirement in the same country he once fought against in “Spiderhole.” In "Pre-Occupants," husband-and-wife scientists arrive on Mars and must adjust to their new environment—and their new neighbors. This isn’t the only story with sci-fi leanings. Cooper moves as fluidly through genre as she does through character and setting, recounting the tale of a nuclear reactor attempting to replace the sun in “Record of Working” and a woman who built a time machine when she was a child in “Thanatos.” What unites these eclectic stories is Cooper’s style—sharp-edged and oblique, these are not narratives that move in usual ways. Like a poet, Cooper is relentlessly original in every sentence: a drunk’s hand “is waving tentacular over his private cemetery of beer bottles”; mountains are “imbricate rows of corroded teeth.” The logic of the stories seems poetic, too; what would be traditional narrative context is often jettisoned in favor of a resonant image or associational logic. Occasionally, plots and subplots have obscure relationships to each other. In short, these are not stories whose meanings unfold cleanly.
Readers willing to give themselves over to some mystery will be rewarded.