The Necessity of Certain Behaviors

Shannon Cain. Univ. of Pittsburgh, $24.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-8229-4410-2
Winner of the 2011 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Cain's debut collection of nine short stories adroitly navigates the tenuous waters of human relationships. Her quietly august characters struggle to come to terms with the unpredictable nuance of tradition, sexuality, and happiness. Cain's confident and steady prose balances out the emotional tumult of stories just bizarre enough to be believable: "I Love Bob" chronicles the search for closure by a woman who believes Bob Barker to be her father; "The Queer Zoo" (you guessed it—"home to the largest collection of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender animals") serves as a strange locus for meditations on identity and the relief of letting go. Utilizing painful misunderstandings to maximum effect, Cain's characters arrive at epiphanies without relying on convenient tricks and plot devices. Dark moments that give way to enlightened reflection reveal characters whose selfishness is deftly managed. Cain highlights their humanity rather than calling it into question. She is especially adept at drawing forth vulnerabilities from her female protagonists. This is a work of finely calibrated emotional registers that will set the bar high for Cain's next book. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 07/25/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
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