If a Stranger Approaches You

Laura Kasischke. Sarabande (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-936747-49-8
In Kasischke’s moody first collection of stories (after eight novels and eight poetry collections, including the NBCC Award–winning Space in Chains), characters are ill equipped to handle anger and fear, and they find their old refuges lacking. In “Mona,” a mother makes a disturbing discovery while snooping in her teenage daughter’s room, a parent-child conflict motif that repeats, in the long-suffering daughter of “You’re Going to Die” relishing the nasty new power she has over her ailing father, and, in “The Flowering Staff,” when a man meets his fiancée’s creepy family. Other standouts, “The Barge” and “I Hope This Is Hell,” combine flashbulb memories of childhood trauma with a pulsing emotional immediacy. In “Search Continues for Elderly Man,” an old man’s mind is overtaken with a mad swirl when a boy and his dog ask him to “come out and play,” but Kasischke brings reality crashing back with an on-the-nose move that kills the spell. The disruption of families and neighborhoods is a particular theme, with the real-life dangers of poverty and foreclosure intertwining with unreal details and true-crime plots. The noxious, unforgettable narrative that unfolds in “Somebody’s Mistress, Somebody’s Wife” combines all of these, as an ex-mistress committed to a quiet life watches her neighborhood’s troubles with horrified fascination. A slim but winning collection. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2012
Release date: 03/01/2013
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