BYSTANDERS by Tara Laskowski


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A collection of stories about the way people are affected by the sometimes-unsettling and even violent things that happen to them or others.

The 13 stories in Laskowski’s second collection (Modern Manners for Your Inner Demons, 2012) exude an ominous and haunting atmosphere. The subject matter is always fairly ordinary, deceptively banal, but just below the surface lurk quiet terrors. The first story, “The Witness,” is about a female bystander who sees a car hit a young boy—his body flew onto the street like a “sheet of paper.” Marie’s obsession with the accident and the man who drove the car leads to profound consequences for her marriage. Tension oozes out of many of these stories. A couple keeps sneaking into a man’s apartment in “The Cat-Sitter” to fondle his things and have sex. In one of the best, “There’s Someone Behind You,” a woman who has secretly been seeing a married man hides in his backyard on Halloween night in order to glimpse the man’s wife in the house. Feeling excited and wicked, she quietly calls out the woman’s name, over and over, confident she won’t come out. A woman becomes obsessed with a co-worker’s murderer in “Death Wish.” Couples—mothers and fathers—and their children populate the stories. There’s a supernatural element and plenty of tension in “The Monitor.” Myra and Corey are given a video monitor to observe their baby, a “colicky, fussy little thing.” Some nights a frightened Myra thinks she’s seeing another baby. Turns out the video is coming from a family’s monitor across the street. Then she starts seeing a little boy walking around the room; they have no boy. There are shades of “The Yellow Wallpaper” in this terrific story. Laskowski’s fine workings of tales that go creepy in the night make her a writer to watch.

Some of these stories are thin and ineffective, but those that work dig deeply into our innermost, darkest fears.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-939650-38-2
Page count: 238pp
Publisher: Santa Fe Writers Project
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2016


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