Out There

Kate Folk. Random House, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-23146-3

Folk debuts with a wonderful absurdist collection that explores the vagaries of human connections. In the title story, the narrator can’t tell if her new boyfriend is an especially refined “blot,” one of the legions of catfishing androids who recently invaded internet dating, or just a tech bro who’s emotionally stunted. Shorter stories act as well-timed interludes, such as “The House’s Beating Heart,” in which a house has a beating heart in a closet, a brain in the roof, and a stomach in the basement. Folk soars in “A Scale Model of Gull Point,” in which a tourist island’s inhabitants—oppressed in ways simultaneously bonkers and viciously realistic—enact a reign of terror, and the crisis prompts a burst of maturity for the narrator, an art teacher whose sculpture career never took off after her MFA. “Big Sur,” another highlight, follows the life of a blot who bunks in an SRO and attempts to get a girlfriend with messages like, “I love dogs... I would never hurt one deliberately.” The story risks a sentimentality anathema to the previous stories’ cynicism, and pulls it off with aplomb. The whole perfectly balances compassion and caustics, and the author has an easy hand blending everyday terror with the humor that helps people swallow it. Folk impresses with her imagination as well as her insights. (Mar.)
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