cover image Sweet and Low

Sweet and Low

Nick White. Blue Rider, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-57365-1

White’s brilliant first story collection (following the novel How to Survive a Summer) peels back the curtain on masculinity and identity in the Deep South. The stories are split into two parts—the first features misfits reeling from death, disillusionment, and trauma, while the second captures angles of aspiring writer Forney Culpepper’s life. Each illuminates sympathetic characters who feel painfully out of place, throwing the strangeness of their circumstances into sharp relief. In “Gaitlinburg,” a couple’s vacation in the Smoky Mountains is shadowed by the threat of a bear wandering the area—plus something more sinister—which exposes the relationship’s fault lines. “Lady Tigers” finds high school–aged Rusty serving as bus driver for a girls’ softball team formerly coached by his deceased father, until an accident reveals secrets linking him to one of the players. And in the title story, a young Forney watches his mother pursue a long dreamed-of singing career with irritation, until her performance at a cigarette smoke–choked club opens his eyes to her in a novel and terrifying way. White’s stirring stories probe the inextricable ways people’s identities are bound to and shaped by their environments, and what happens when they attempt to rise above. This is an atmospheric and expertly crafted collection. Agent: Noah Ballard, Curtis Brown. (June)