cover image The New Order

The New Order

Karen E. Bender. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64009-099-6

Bender’s incisive collection (following Refund) touches on a range of hot-button issues—from gun violence and political xenophobia to sexual harassment and economic downturn. In “Where to Hide in a Synagogue,” preparations for protecting a temple from hate crimes lead two old friends to renegotiate their relationship. “Mrs. America” follows a woman’s campaign for office in North Carolina, which devolves into a slanderous mess when she incorporates her opponent’s dog into attacks on his viability for office. Aside from the dystopian “The Department of Happiness and Reimbursement” and the parablelike “The Cell Phones,” Bender’s stories maintain a grounded, subdued realism. The great strength of the collection lies in her ability to examine the ramifications of violence and casual cruelty on individuals and communities. The title story is perhaps the most successful at this: following a shooting, members of a middle school orchestra audition for their deceased peer’s seat, an assignment with lifelong repercussions for the survivors. “There were many types of violence in the world, some quieter,” the speaker notes. This is a thoughtful, timely collection. (Nov.)