cover image Disasters in the First World

Disasters in the First World

Olivia Clare. Black Cat, $16 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2661-0

Its provocative title notwithstanding, Clare’s debut collection features 13 sensitive stories whose dramas are more intimate and incisive than earthshaking. In “Olivia,” a houseguest drives his hosts from initial confusion to anger with his daily accounts of a nonexistent cat whom he claims visits him regularly in his room. “Pétur” tells of a middle-aged mother, trapped with her son in Iceland following a volcanic eruption, who finds fulfillment in a lover whom she imagines into being in the uninhabited house next door. In “Pittsburgh in Copenhagen,” a pair of lovers unfaithful to their spouses find the uncertainties in their relationship magnified by a mysterious delivery of flowers to the woman’s apartment. Most of Clare’s stories feature characters who try with only marginal success to communicate their feelings to one another. “Things That Aren’t the World” is presented as a series of letters and messages through which a son and mother argue over the welfare of a younger sibling who is content living in her delusory world. “Two Cats, the Chickens, and Trees” ends devastatingly with a woman thinking of the mother-in-law whom she increasingly comes to love, “You must never admire her without wishing to be unlike her. You must hate when someone else loves her.” Clare’s characters are believable in their frailty and vulnerability, and the clarity and strength of her voice gives these stories a lingering power. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (June)