Ryan Harty, Author . Univ. of Iowa $15.95 (158p) ISBN 978-0-87745-869-2

The stark landscapes of the desert Southwest form the backdrop for Harty's poignant and intelligent debut collection. Two of the eight stories explore the complicated relationships between brothers: a young football player feels the pull of opposing loyalties when his brother, home from the Marines, kills a rival's dog in "What Can I Tell You About My Brother"; in "Crossroads," a Marine bound for Vietnam and his younger brother go to a Led Zeppelin concert in a debauched outing that might be one of their last, best times. Harty shows a keen interest in characters who are down on their luck, as in "Between Tubac and Tumacacori," in which a heroin addict tempts his former partner to leave his girlfriend and begin dealing again, but suffers a twinge of conscience. The longest story is also one of the most affectingly unusual: in "Don't Call It Christmas," Will, a low-level writing instructor in San Francisco, embarks on a hesitantly tender affair with a tough homeless girl while his mother lies comatose in an Arizona hospital; the girl's gutterpunk boyfriend causes trouble, but when Will's mother wakes, happiness seems briefly possible. "Why the Sky Turns Red When the Sun Goes Down" explores the emotional side of a technologically advanced future, as a couple agonizes over their beloved robotic son, who has begun to experience mechanical breakdowns. No one would call these stories uplifting, or optimistic, but they are all fully realized and elegantly told—and often quietly surprising. Hardy excels at creating a three-dimensional desert suburbia populated by seeking, reaching characters, for whom happiness is always just a bit out of reach. Agent, Kim Witherspoon. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 08/04/2003
Release date: 10/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
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