cover image The Peripatetic Coffin

The Peripatetic Coffin

Ethan Rutherford. Ecco, $13.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-220383-0

Rutherford’s sharp, inspired debut collection runs the gamut of emotion and genre, blending laughter and misery, reality and fantasy, in eight tales that ponder the methods in which humans achieve isolation. While many of these methods take the form of physical vessels—the Civil War-era submarine in the title story, the Russian ship headed toward the North Pole in “The Saint Anna,” a futuristic shipper-tank named Halcyon roaming the desert for dying prey in “Dirwhals!”—the author also fashions narratives focusing on psychological, corporeal seclusion. In “A Mugging,” a marriage slowly erodes after a violent robbery, and the nostalgically beautiful “Summer Boys” recounts a devoted childhood friendship that unfolds over the long, meandering days of summer vacation. Children find themselves in a different kind of summer story in “Camp Winnesaka,” a darkly comic, battle-ravaged tale of sleepover camp vs. sleepover camp that doubles as a sly commentary on the Iraq War. And though Rutherford (who appeared in Best American Short Stories 2009) dips into related thematic waters in nearly all of his narratives, the feeling of repetition never surfaces. These are robust, engaging stories. Agent: Sarah Burnes, the Gernert Company. (June)