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by Ru Freeman

Pub Date: June 7th, 2022
ISBN: 978-1-64445-088-8
Publisher: Graywolf

This short story collection methodically strips away the intricate layers of privilege, revealing the sometimes-sinister truth that no one is ever truly safe, regardless of societal status.

With a cast of richly diverse characters, from immigrants to housewives and domestic workers, Freeman reveals the interpersonal dance of those who orbit around, or are beholden to, the middle class. “Retaining Walls” is about a contractor who transforms the homes of people with money while navigating a too-familiar intimacy from his clients and his conditioned emotional distance from his own family. In “Fault Lines,” featuring three women whose lives intertwine, class tensions trump all: Mira, who is brown with White-presenting children, grapples with being otherized as she’s assumed to be the nanny by a White woman, a fellow parent at their children’s suburban school; Mira’s nanny, Gabriella, wants to go back to school but is held back by her social circumstances, while Mira compounds Gabriella’s situation with her passive-aggressive demands; and Iris, another domestic worker who is friends with Gabby, fights for sick days to attend her own children. In the book’s most unsettling story, “Sleeping Alone,” Sameera, a Middle Eastern immigrant, metes out a private insurgency on her romantic partner, a White professor of Middle Eastern studies, as well as his friends and colleagues in central Maine through a series of small, nonlethal, but devastating deeds to punish them for their unconscious biases about not only her country and people, but their refusal to truly see her. Each story is tightly structured and aimed to pierce through the reader’s own sense of stability, which, while not always enjoyable, is certainly effective.

Deceptively disturbing, deeply felt, and original, this collection will work its way beneath your nerves like a splinter.