cover image Sweet Nothing

Sweet Nothing

Richard Lange. Little, Brown/Mulholland, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-32754-1

Gamblers, grifters, ex-cons, and those just conning themselves populate this gritty if uneven L.A.-centric second story collection from the author of the Hammett Prize–winning novel Angel Baby (2013). Marginalized types barely manage to scrape by, like the streetwise security guard of the satisfyingly twisty “Apocrypha”; they know their weaknesses as intimately as their drugs of choice. And yet in the best of these tales—among them “Instinctive Drowning Response,” a smartly structured account of a low-level dealer’s arc after his girlfriend ODs—they still manage to cut themselves a little slack, despite their damning insights. As expressed by the sympathetic protagonist of the title story, whose addictions have sent him from family man earning six figures to Subway sandwich-maker sharing an apartment with a stranger he met on Craigslist, “There’s something to be said for the truth, sure, but the truth is, it’s lies that keep us going.” Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency. (Feb.)