cover image This Is Salvaged: Stories

This Is Salvaged: Stories

Vauhini Vara. Norton, $26.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-393-54173-1

The stories in this striking collection from Vara (The Immortal King Rao) depict protagonists yearning for connection. “The Irates,” the bracingly frank opener, follows Swati, 14, whose older brother has just died from cancer. She takes refuge from her grieving family with her friend Lydia at their favorite Chinese restaurant in Seattle. There, a man named Orlando recruits them to work as telemarketers (the girls tell him they’re 18). After they work for a while selling magazines, they compete to be selected for Orlando’s new phone sex venture. The girls’ fearlessness and yearning is palpable, and their dialogue is hilarious (“People don’t talk about labial sweat,” Swati says to Lydia, who responds, “that’s true”). In “You Are Not Alone,” an eight-year-old girl flies to Orlando from Seattle to stay with her father while her mother is hospitalized for a mental breakdown. He picks her up at the airport with a woman who says she’s the girl’s stepmother, and while the three are on a kayaking trip, the girl glimpses an alligator and allows the stepmother to paddle in its direction without telling her about it. The smart and playful title story follows a sculptor named Marlon who’s known for installations that aren’t meant to last. When a child topples Marlon’s large-scale sandcastle in a museum gallery, the parents are mortified, not realizing the work is meant to be about what happens following the end of the world, “after we had all been atomized and wind-scattered.” Vara invigorates with emotional insights, whimsy, and a precision with language. It’s a remarkable achievement. (Sept.)