cover image If the Body Allows It

If the Body Allows It

Megan Cummins. Univ. of Nebraska, $21.95 (270p) ISBN 978-1-496-22283-1

Cummins’s impressive debut, a novel in stories, follows Marie, a writer in her mid-30s with an auto-immune disease. The narrative begins with Marie’s doctor advising her to avoid pregnancy due to her illness. This advice and Marie’s health proceed to dismantle her relationship with long-term boyfriend Ralph as well as a later relationship with Patrick, a younger man who Marie feels bonded to through their shared loss of a loved one to addiction—Marie “lost [her] father to drugs” years before and feels her indifference betrayed him. Marie’s interludes bring together other stories, presented as ones written by Marie herself, that poignantly deal with disease, pregnancy, and addiction: in “The Beast,” a woman finds out her husband’s secret addiction has resulted in thousands of dollars in credit card debt; in “Countergirls,” a woman navigates the rocky relationship between her husband and daughter, an opioid addict; in Michigan, a wife begins an affair with the local playboy and drunk; in “Higher Power,” a recovering addict reconnects with his ex-wife who has multiple sclerosis; and in “Water Burial,” a woman confides to her sister that both her body and romantic relationship are slowly deteriorating. Each story is riveting and climactic, and Marie’s narration effectively ties them together. Cummins’s innovative work delivers well-crafted stories, vivid characters, and unsettling emotional gravitas. (Sept.)