Sexologist Bright (The Best of Best American Erotica, 2008, etc.) joins the ranks of Akashic editors to rip the lid off the California coastal town that’s never seemed less laid-back.
Considering how small Santa Cruz is, the results here are all over the map except for one invariable rule: Nothing in these 20 new stories goes right. Not the lesbian romance Ariel Gore tracks in “Whatever Happened to Skinny Jane?” Not a community college teacher’s attempts to cover for her foundering student in Jessica Breheny’s "54028 Love Creek Road.” Not the summer-camp friendship Naomi Hirahara develops, then curtails, in “Possessed.” Not a college student’s search for her missing father, a noted Chinese chef, in Lou Mathews’ “Crab Dinners.” Not the attempts of sorely tried neighbors to impose the law on their neighborhoods in Micah Perks’ “Treasure Island” and Wallace Baine’s “Flaming Arrows.” Not the doomed romances between moneyed men and the women they pick up in Seana Graham’s “Safe Harbor” and Liza Monroy’s “Mischa and the Seal,” whose heroine gets sage telepathic advice from a seal. Among the strongest entries: An obstreperous 10-year-old interferes when her parents take in a student researcher in Margaret Elysia Garcia’s “Monarchs and Maidens”; Elizabeth McKenzie shows a teenage girl whose stint as a private eye gets even shakier when she has to avenge her dead client in “The Big Creep”; an aimless fling suddenly turns nasty in Beth Lisick’s “Pinballs”; and a Latino gangster hopes in vain that his son won’t follow in his footsteps in Dillon Kaiser’s “It Follows Until It Leads.”
Though many of these stories are more interested in evoking a voice or mood than pursuing a plot to its conclusion, Vinnie Hansen’s “Miscalculation” provides a textbook example of how many twists can fit into the simple tale of a bank teller’s adventures with the Guitar Case Bandit.