Racism and homophobia are among the eerie phenomena haunting these tense stories.
In this debut collection, Hayslett’s characters, most of them black, brown, and/or queer, have their personal problems complicated by their outsider status, by ominous politics, and by occasional eruptions of madness and the macabre. In “2016,” a black lesbian copes with her sister’s troubled pregnancy, her father’s cancer diagnosis, and an increasingly crazy presidential campaign while a ghostly skull that only she can see gradually materializes over her face when she looks in the mirror. In “Money Men,” an Atlanta prostitute who passes the time watching cable news while servicing her clients becomes obsessed with the Arab Spring revolutions she sees on TV. In the Twilight Zone–ish “Super Rush,” a 35-year-old gay man begins an affair with a 19-year-old version of himself whom he encounters at a bathhouse; in “Denial Twist,” a gay man’s affair with a flamboyant drag queen is derailed by homophobic violence; and in “A Step Toward Evolution,” a Native American gay man who feels slighted by white gay men who use and discard him initiates a germ-warfare campaign. And in the disturbing “Come Clean,” two black children observe the bizarre changes in their mother after she is sexually assaulted by a white man and fear she is turning into a vampire. Hayslett paints this world in matter-of-fact realism that’s trimmed with deadpan humor and knocked only slightly off-kilter by incursions of the paranormal, conveying it all in brisk, evocative, grungily lyrical prose. “When your husband finally tells you he’s fucking Celia Washington, your ears fill with room-tone…it’s the first time in six months he’s not grinning like a two-dollar-idiot, and your vision crisps so sharp you can see every scraggly outline of lint on his jacket, and his breath feels like ten thousand wet pellets splashing your face as he says I’m sorry, I’m so so sorry,” growls the narrator of “Hope It Felt Good” as a wronged wife begins a bizarre metamorphosis. The author keeps the identity politics pervasive yet unobtrusive as his characters fight a twilight struggle against a world bent on erasing their realities.
A gripping collection of yarns in which social disadvantages take on monstrous shapes.