cover image Subcortical


Lee Conell. Johns Hopkins Univ., $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4214-2422-4

Conell brings the characters in her rich debut collection to life in weird, wise, and often poignant ways. In the title story, a young woman begins an affair with a married doctor who dreams of curing homosexuality, and she becomes complicit in his experiments to turn a young gay man straight, even as she increasingly identifies with the doctor’s patient. “What the Blob Said to Me” recounts the experience of a woman who long ago assisted in the building of the atomic bomb; looking back, she regrets not the lives lost due to the bomb, but instead the fate of a young colleague to whom she had been cruel. And in “The Lock Factory,” the narrator recounts her mother’s experience working a summer job and an intergenerational conflict that developed between two coworkers. This story is a surprisingly moving portrait of three generations of women that demonstrates how difficult it is to escape the places that make people who they are. Throughout the collection, the characters’ interior and exterior lives are often in striking conflict, and in this juxtaposition, Conell maps the emotional landscape of people on the periphery who have been waiting to be recognized. (Nov.)