cover image Upright Beasts

Upright Beasts

Lincoln Michel. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-56689-418-0

The world presented in Michel’s admirable debut collection is similar to our own, yet twisted just enough to feel strange. Here, so-called Apartment Wellness workers wander hallways to prevent suicides, children grow up in environs reminiscent of Russian nesting dolls (a room inside a room inside a room), and weather vanes set off neighborhood warfare. Schools play a role in two tales: the excellent “Our Education” presents a Lord of the Flies–esque narrative, with children surviving inside a school after an unexplained apocalyptic event wipes out adults; “Almost Recess” finds a teacher corralling students who play-act hangings in her classroom. Other stories feature a secretive artists’ colony (“Colony”) and a mysterious death (“Things Left Outside”). Some of his longer tales lose momentum: “Our New Neighborhood” pushes quirkiness to a cloying extreme, and “Dark Air,” the collection’s longest story, full of backwoods aliens, mutations, and giant creatures, feels like an undercooked B movie. But most of these stories are quite short, and Michel frequently knocks his brief bursts of prose out of the park. (Oct.)