cover image Reptile House

Reptile House

Robin McLean. BOA (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-938160-65-3

McLean’s debut collection of short stories moves seamlessly from adultery to kidnapping, from assassination plots to extreme geothermal events, all in a voice that is spare and darkly poetic. In “Cold Snap,” recent divorcée Lilibeth struggles with isolation as her small town is consumed by one of the coldest winter spells in history. In “The True End to All Sad Times,” a man’s unhealthy obsession with a former high school classmate leads to an equally unhealthy infatuation with the driver of the bus the man rides every evening. In the title story, Carl fantasizes about abandoning his life while sitting in the recovery room after the birth of his child. McLean’s characters are lonely in their marriages, isolated from the world around them, and not generally given happy endings. What this book does offer, however, is strangely realistic glimpses into conflicts that are equal parts surreal and hyper-realistic, rendered by a voice that gracefully juxtaposes terse reportage and lyrical insight. The result is a taut volume that explores the fate of the dashed dreamer, offering charming insights into the untidy worlds of people who are not where they thought they’d be. (May)