cover image Milk Blood Heat

Milk Blood Heat

Dantiel W. Moniz. Grove, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8021-5815-4

Northern Florida looms large over the 11 stories that comprise Moniz’s smart debut collection, a comingling of themes of adolescent discovery, family strain, and temptation’s dangerous appeal. In the title story, a friendship between two eighth grade girls, complete with awkward companionship and blood pacts, turns to conversations on death, and “An Almanac of Bones” sees another pair of tweens bonding over animal skulls and one girl’s family tradition of moon festivals. An absent mother figures in the latter story, and fractured relations populate several others. “Thicker Than Water” follows estranged siblings as they reluctantly reunite to drive their father’s ashes to his final resting place. “The Loss of Heaven” stars a 50-something man who begins spending more time at the local watering hole after his wife refuses chemotherapy treatments for her cancer, and in “Snow,” the icy sexual relationship between a woman and her husband leads her to contemplate their future during a night of spiritual awakening while bartending. Some stories end abruptly, but Moniz knows her characters well and writes with confidence throughout, letting narratives meander without losing sight of their destinations. Each of these humanity-studying journeys through the Sunshine State easily stands on its own. Agent: Meredith Kaffel Simonoff, DeFiore and Company (Feb.)