cover image Magpies


Lynne Barrett. Carnegie Mellon Univ., $17.95 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-0-88748-543-5

In her third book, Barrett (The Secret Names of Women) presents eight stories featuring collectors of vintage ephemera, underemployed women, and murderers, among others. She nimbly portrays the pitfalls of empathy, from an employee who shepherds her boss home after the failure of an Internet startup to a columnist whose cruel speculation results in an ailment requiring kindness to lessen its effects. In other stories, an ex-cop allows a confession to remain secret, a stranded woman converses with an Argentine cashier, sisters reach a truce over maintaining their mother's Christmas tradition, and, a couple navigates the transition from dating to life after marriage. Barrett portrays adult lives with minimal flourishes and a powerful command of setting. Florida is electric with the tension of "all that can happen"%E2%80%94hurricanes, sinkholes, and a boom-and-bust history. It becomes as eerie as it is richly imagined, whether stories take place in an Art Deco building or a gas station. One of the year's finer university press offerings, the collection is especially noteworthy for "The Noir Boudoir," an atmospheric tale of unsettling realizations and the ways past events shadow the present. (Sept.)