cover image Life Among the Terranauts

Life Among the Terranauts

Caitlin Horrocks. Little, Brown, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-31697-2

Vigorous and supremely crafted, Horrocks’s second collection (after the novel The Vexations) explores human frailties, desires, and mechanisms for survival. In “The Sleep,” family man Al Rasmussen persuades the fellow residents of his moribund Midwestern town to sleep through the winter (“ ‘Don’t try to convince me,’ Al said, ‘that anything worthwhile happens in this town during January and February. I’ve lived here as long as you have’ ”). A posse of high school girls are haunted by their favorite fortune-telling games in “Better Not Tell You Now,” and a former-cult member turned real estate agent takes his estranged son on a Boston-area college tour in “Chance Me.” After a gruesome act of violence in “Teacher,” an elementary school teacher considers whether one can really know how a student will turn out. The title story, one of the most arresting and inventive of the bunch, follows a small group of scientists, engineers, and a philosopher who live in an isolated artificial ecosystem, vying for the chance to win a small fortune. With 187 days to go and their faith in survival unraveling into disorder, the possibility of cannibalism becomes increasingly likely. Horrocks’s linguistic finesse and narrative range is impressive, and she brings incisive humor, pathos, and wit to her characters and their predicaments. The result is an immersive and engaging work that astutely captures the complexities of the human condition. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Jan.)