cover image Heartbroke


Chelsea Bieker. Catapult, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64622-127-1

This wrenching collection from Bieker (Godshot) follows characters who wager on hope despite long odds and broken promises. In “Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Miners,” a bartender’s aspiration to attend a community college writing class is thwarted by her miner boyfriend, whose increasingly controlling behavior echoes her family history. “Cowboys and Angels,” about a naive phone sex operator who falls for a con man, is darkly comic, though overall the mood is one of fragile optimism that’s easily shattered. In “Women and Children First,” a woman whose own daughter has been placed in foster care seizes a doomed opportunity to nurture an addict’s baby. In the title story, a grieving mother writes (but doesn’t send) letters to her young gay son about the siblings he never knew, chasing an improbable desire to “feel my joy and know it was safe to feel joyful.” Most stories are written in first person, their narrators giving vivid voice to the longings they still nurture despite everything. Throughout, Bieker’s deeply human narrators bend the reader’s ear with memorable stories. Agent: Samantha Shea, Georges Borchardt Agency. (Apr.)