BALL by Tara Ison


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Elegant, creepy short stories with a horror-film sensibility.

If you look at the table of contents of Ison's (Rockaway, 2013, etc.) short story collection before you read the book, you will see a column of innocent-looking nouns. Cactus. Ball. Wig. Fish. Apology. After you finish, the same list shimmers with evil portent. That classic horror-movie elision, from friendly normalcy to nauseating terror, is made by most of these beautifully written, often first-person narratives. The title story is named for a game of fetch played with an ugly little dog the narrator halfheartedly adopts but then falls for utterly. "I loved her so much it was numbing, and sometimes, to jab a feeling at myself, I fantasized about her dying." The relentless, autonomic neediness that drives the dog to insist on playing ball is mirrored in a sexual affair the narrator is conducting with her best friend's neighbor, who is a "wonderfully alpine six-feet-four" and is "brusque and unsheepish, as fearless of sex as a porn star." This attitude toward sex characterizes the narrative voice itself as it describes the man's penis and the dog's vagina with equal precision. The tale ends with a horrible betrayal and the surreal violence of a campfire ghost story. Betrayal is a central theme in many other stories as well. In "Wig," the narrator lovingly cares for her best friend who's dying of cancer while carrying on an affair with her husband. In "Apology," a wife resorts to gothic self-mutilation to win back her husband after he walks in on her with another man in their bed. Sexual degradation and abuse is everywhere: in an after-school job at a bakery, in the hospital where an old uncle is dying, on the website of an Internet dominatrix. And bizarre, extravagant death—by cactus, by knitting, by famous boyfriend—is never far away.

Freaky, nasty, highly original, and unforgettable, whether you like it or not.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 2015
ISBN: 978-1593766221
Page count: 232pp
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2015


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