cover image What Burns

What Burns

Dale Peck. Soho, $16.99 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-64129-082-1

Peck (Night Soil) writes beautifully about desire in his first story collection. Some stories border on the absurd in a comical way, especially the two that open the book, “Not Even Camping Is Like Camping Anymore,” about a wise-before-his-time five-year-old who is obsessed with his babysitter’s teenage son, and “Bliss,” about one man’s experience attending a support group for those affected by murder who befriend their loved ones’ murderers. The bulk of the stories are more sinister or violently shocking. In “Dues,” for example, a man becomes obsessed with how everyone is condemned to repeat certain histories after a stranger attacks him. And in “Summer Beam,” a novella split in two that ends the book—which is perhaps the strongest in the collection—a woman retreats to her family’s vacation home to escape her dissolving marriage, only to find more pain waiting for her. While some stories veer a bit too much into the didactic, especially about the state of the world, Peck is best when writing confidently about the uncomfortable reality humans live in. This is an evocative collection. (Nov.)