I Hold a Wolf by the Ears

Laura van den Berg. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-10209-8

In van den Berg’s startling, precise collection (after The Third Hotel), a series of women are haunted by various disturbances, often in Florida. “Last Night” sets the tone with an unnamed narrator spooked by the sudden closure of the bar downstairs from her apartment, causing her to look back on her would-be suicide many years earlier, when, as a teenager, she spent 10 months at a lax Florida psychiatric treatment facility for her suicidal ideation. “Slumberland” follows a woman’s aimless walks outside Orlando, Fla., during which she photographs the transient residents of a seedy motel while reflecting on her own state of impermanence. In “Lizards,” a woman is outraged by news reports of a judge’s alleged sexual assaults. Her husband, skeptical and fatigued by her talking, pacifies her with a sedative-laced seltzer he finds online. “Your Second Wife” follows a woman thrust into the desperation of the gig economy who becomes a “grief freelancer,” playing the roles of widowers’ dead wives. In the title story, the collection’s thematic climax, a woman poses as her more successful sister; her actions inform the various ways that the women in van den Berg’s stories often succumb to self-erasure or are erased by others. Van den Berg maintains an unsettling tone throughout these darkly imagined tales. This collection shows the author at her best. (July)