cover image All the Names They Used for God

All the Names They Used for God

Anjali Sachdeva. Spiegel & Grau, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-59300-0

The nine stories in Sachdeva’s intriguing debut collection raise challenging questions about human responses to short-circuited desires. Equally at home in realistic and speculative plots, Sachdeva crafts precise character studies with minimal flourishes. “Anything You Might Want” follows the quick crumbling of the relationship between the daughter of a rich, controlling Montana magnate and an indebted miner, and her tantalizing opportunity for revenge. “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid” also focuses on an unwise emotional attachment, bringing together a laconic fisherman and an actual mermaid who nets his ship the largest catches in years. Some stories are creative riffs on historic events, including the title story, in which two kidnapping victims of Boko Haram discover a quasimagical form of hypnosis that can control men. Others, such as “Manus,” point to alarming futures, in which aliens have conquered earth without upsetting life too much—other than requiring all humans replace their hands with metal prosthetics. The most affecting story, “Pleiades,” updates the hubris of Greek tragedy: the inexplicable illnesses of genetically modified septuplets undercut their parents’ faith in science. Throughout, characters face a perpetual constraint against full expression of their emotions. These inventive stories will challenge readers to rethink how people cope with thwarted hopes. (Feb.)