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Bobcat and Other StoriesThere is something deeply likeable and satisfying about the eight stories in Bobcat and Other Stories, the new collection by Rebecca Lee. Each one is a full landscape peopled by believable characters who stumble along in recognizable ways. Lee takes her time developing the stories and they deliver the more complete satisfactions of longer works. But it’s the writing itself that is the real standout here. Lee writes in a way that is profoundly clear one minute and deeply strange the next, meaning her observations and descriptions can be startlingly unexpected – and they are wonderful for that.

Winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, At-risk (University of Georgia Press) by Amina Gautier is a heartbreaking, eye opening, and endearing collection of stories that focus on African-American children in turmoil. Fathers leave, or if they stay, fall apart—addictions and failure all around them. Mothers ignore, or distance themselves, pushing their own agendas. Brothers and sisters either die in the street or get out by whatever means is necessary. And somewhere in the shadows of these events sit the boys and girls who try to make sense of it all—and try to survive it, unscarred.

Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, Little Sinners and Other Stories (University of Nebraska Press) by Karen Brown is a collection of tales set primarily in the supposed domestic bliss of quiet, suburban life. But these tales are anything but mundane and conservative: they reach out into the shadows and chipped sidewalks that surround these cookie cutter lives that fall apart all around us. Death and betrayal, loneliness and desperation, dreams dissolved and love left cold on the doorsteps of our everyday existence—these are the stories we are given.

Strange things are happening in Ampersand, Mass. (Keyhole Press). In this collection of short stories by William Walsh, there is pornography, amnesia, obsession, a real life muse, a cross-eyed teddy bear, shoplifting, and a barber running from heart disease. These tales run the gamut from fantastical and bizarre to sweet and touching to heartbreaking and morose. Sounds like life—like most towns, big or small. But in his unique point of view, Walsh unveils relationships that are familiar, and yet, not quite right—a twist or oddity that makes these tales his own.

Shannon Cain’s The Necessity of Certain Behaviors was the winner of the Drue Heinz Literary Prize for 2011, showcasing a collection of short stories that speaks to us about love, need, and irreversible actions. What is necessary, what behaviors do we implore when seeking freedom, family or peace? When you are in love with a man and a woman, how do you decide between the two, amidst puppies and wives and a bed filled with the ghosts of your lovemaking? Would you be willing to deal drugs, to sell a large quantity of pot in order to keep your family intact, to chase that plastic package into a dark river, riddled with fear? A mother caught in a steam room masturbating her way into another world, another life, the one she wishes she had lived, cannot overshadow her own daughter’s questionable love for a teacher, a coach, an older man. Lost in the jungle, one woman finds that her sexuality knows no boundaries, instead captivated by the slick dark flesh of men and women alike, trying hard to leave behind the civilized world, in order to embrace her true self. A queer zoo, Bob Barker, and a AAA travel guide eager to get off the beaten path, round out this body of work, the stories in this slim bound volume heartbreaking, alluring, exotic, and lush.

“It is difficult to masturbate about your father, but not impossible, as it turns out.”

“I am the Champion of Failure.”

“What I do remember most though, are the fireflies and how she proved that they were real by squishing one across her palm. It left a fluorescent streak. It made me feel like screaming.”

Heartbreaking stories grounded in a fractured reality, love and the strange things it makes us do, neighbors and the heavy weight of proximity, this is Sarah Court. A collection of connected, interlinking narratives, Sarah Court (ChiZine Publications) by Craig Davidson is set in a circle of houses, each neighbor with their own story to tell. Reminiscent of Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock, but set in the area around Niagara Falls, we get to see from several different perspectives how things unfold when there is death next door, the trickle down of sweat and violence from one family to the next, the way that love and lust intertwine young passions, families infecting each other. The residents:

“The haunted father of a washed-up stuntman. A disgraced surgeon and his son, a broken-down boxer. A father set on permanent self-destruct, and his daughter, a reluctant powerlifter. A fireworks-maker and his daughter. A very peculiar boy and his equally peculiar adopted family.

The Ones That Got Away (Prime Books) tiptoes into the darkness, luring us deep into the woods, up into crawlspaces, and to distant islands, where the people, the sacrifices, the losses are our own, our universal fears come to life. You’d think that once he surprised me, once Dr. Jones pulled that old trick where you watch the left hand while the right hand does something else that I’d be prepared for more misdirection, watching the wolf when it was always going to be the dolphin. But it’s all there, it’s always right there, a tingling sensation that runs up your spine, an itch where it settles, burrowing in, a heat up your neck flushing with realization. It isn’t misdirection. It’s an adding up of information, the sum larger than the parts. It’s coming to your own conclusion before the story ends, whispering to yourself that it can’t be what you think it is. Please don’t let him go there. It’s not a trick, or a twist, and no God as machine descends from the sky. It’s what you knew all along, it’s what you feared could be true, it’s a stiff body standing in the corner of a musty basement, the camera on a tripod tipping over, and the evil revealing itself. And it’s how the everyday people in these tales deal with these revelations when they come home to roost.

In this slim volume of very short stories, Cut Through The Bone (Dark Sky Books) Ethel Rohan presents a series of confrontations, putting us in the middle of those awkward little moments: when your mother stands in the living room her face scarred and disfigured, eyeballs floating in their sockets, rimmed with blood; when the divorce papers are dropped on the table, your husband’s fingernails black with dirt, yellow raincoat wrapped tight around his frame; that moment of violence when you lash out at your only child, your wife gone, this the only flesh left to scream at, to hold, to hug and understand. This is not one long discourse, one epic tale that unfurls your heart, deboning you, leaving you dismembered. No, this is death by a thousand cuts, tiny slices that you hardly notice, here and there a thin ribbon of blood, a bite, a nip, hardly a sting at all, until suddenly this community of intruders has riddled your skin with wounds, a pool of blood gathered at your ankles, death revealed in your pale, translucent skin.