cover image Heart Attack Watch

Heart Attack Watch

Alyson Foster. Bloomsbury, $26 (192p) ISBN 978-1-62040-543-7

In her first collection of stories, Foster (God Is an Astronaut) explores moments of catastrophe and the brief stillness created when people are forced into a pressing, decisive responses. In “Sand Castles” a writer, her poet husband, and their twin daughters enter a sand-castle competition at their vacation home in Michigan. The idyllic setting breaks into chaos when the narrator loses grasp of her toddler in the evening tide: “Jeff might know a word for this, a precise and spare phrase to describe the point where everything hangs precariously in the balance.” In “Blackout,” Denise is worrying about her hardworking but reticent teenage daughter when she witnesses a power outage from the roof of the hospital where she works, an event that portends the stunning sight of her troubled daughter poised on their home’s roof, “bare toes lined up along the overburdened gutter, leaning forward.” In “The Place of the Holy,” the standout of the collection, teenage Nina’s world is imperiled when a minister makes a house call and doesn’t leave. Nina, who believes that “knowledge begins with a person’s comprehension of their own unglamorous essence,” beautifully notes how “trouble and sin are infinite and inextricable” at the moment when her mother’s treacherous affections for the minister become apparent. Sharp, unsentimental descriptions of these difficult situations will keep readers on their toes throughout Foster’s astute collection. (May)