cover image Joy: And 52 Other Very Short Stories

Joy: And 52 Other Very Short Stories

Erin McGraw. Counterpoint, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-64009-208-2

McGraw’s fourth collection proves she’s a master of the form. Across these 53 brief stories, it is astonishing what she is able to conjure up in the span of a few pages. In “Second Sight,” a married lesbian couple on the rocks has their relationship resuscitated after receiving unconventional help from one of the women’s mothers. Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra return to Ava’s home for a family gathering in “Ava Gardner Goes Home.” There are stories told entirely in dialogue (“Friendship”), in nonlinear order (“Pebble”), and as a prayer (“Prayer”). A few of the stories examine events from the viewpoints of different characters, such as “Comfort (1)” and “Comfort (2),” which tell the story of the killing of a young boy from both the unrepentant murderer and the grieving mother’s sides, or “Bucket (1)” and “Bucket (2),” in which an advice columnist receives a letter he thinks is from his wife before the second story reveals its true author. McGraw (The Good Life) is wise and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, with a seventh sense for the perfect turn of phrase (a mouth is “just on the brink of an expression,” a “dreamy girl... must have fallen into his hands like a plum”). This quintessential collection of stories serves as an homage to the form while showcasing McGraw’s stunning talent and deep empathy for the idiosyncrasies, small joys, and despairs of human nature. Agent: Gail Hochman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (Mar.)