cover image Hot Pink

Hot Pink

Adam Levin. McSweeney's, $22 (256p) ISBN 978-1-936365-21-0

Readers put off by the enormity of Levin's debut novel, The Instructions (which clocks in at over 1,000 pages), can rest easy%E2%80%94this hilarious, tenderly wrought story collection dazzles without the commitment. In the hands of a lesser writer, Levin's vaudevillian cast of characters%E2%80%94like the legless lesbian prodigy of "Considering the Bittersweet End of Susan Falls" or the titular young woman of "Jane Tell" who enjoys being punched by strangers%E2%80%94may have come across as pat and sensationalistic. But Levin is interested in how language shapes and limits reality, and he deftly uses his ear for voice to elaborate on these ideas. He also possesses a logician's dexterity when it comes to plotting, nimbly anchoring his linguistic concerns to surprising story arcs. In "Scientific American," a financial trader grows increasingly obsessed with determining the reason behind his bedroom wall oozing gel, and in the title story, a self-described Ukrainian "meathead" sees subtext in everything, but laments his inability to gauge words correctly when it matters: "Like hot pink? For years I thought it was regular pink that looked sexy on whoever was wearing it." Despite the encumbering instruction-manual frame of "How to Play The Guy," Levin's newest cements his position as a writer with the daring and talent to push the boundaries of short fiction. (Mar.)