cover image The Emerald Light in the Air

The Emerald Light in the Air

Donald Antrim. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22 (176p) ISBN 978-0-3742-8093-2

The seven gripping stories gathered in Antrim’s (The Verificationist) long-awaited debut collection showcase the author’s ability to employ surreal and traditional modes to describe the emotional demons plaguing his characters. The opening story, “An Actor Prepares,” is about a dean at a “small liberal-arts institution” who shares his creepy experiences directing a twisted version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The quietly troubling “Pond, With Mud” draws out an awkward chance encounter between a man and his girlfriend’s son’s biological father in a train station. The remaining five stories speak to each other to form a sort of thematic saga, which portrays the nuanced connections between flawed but sympathetic characters. “Solace” highlights the pleasant early stages of a relationship, and follows a couple’s romantic rendezvous in their friends’ New York apartments; more seasoned pairs are entangled and on the brink of collapse, but maneuver around each other to achieve temporary harmony in “Another Manhattan,” “He Knew,” and “Ever Since.” Antrim is well attuned to the idiosyncracies that define the rhythm of a relationship, and is particularly adept at giving shape to the complications that inevitably arise between lovers. A collection of great depth to be read, reread, and above all, relished. (Sept.)