cover image Brain Work: Stories

Brain Work: Stories

Michael Guista. Mariner Books, $12 (178pp) ISBN 978-0-618-54672-5

Guista's uneven debut collection of short stories pits, to mixed results, therapy against theology. His characters, often complex and emotionally crippled, seek answers to the fundamental questions concerning God, love and the meaning of life. These are treacherous waters for a first-time author, but Guista navigates them mostly unscathed, exhibiting the clinical compassion you'd expect to find in someone with advanced degrees in fiction writing and psychology. The 14 stories share a confessional tone that sometimes approximates a group therapy session (from ""Godcrazy"": ""My name's Ed and I know I'm crazy. I like to fly but I also like people.""), which isn't surprising, considering many of his characters either work in the mental health field or are in therapy themselves. Guista is at his best when he stays within his element of brainy, self-aware professionals; the few instances when he branches out (as in ""Front Yard,"" a dismal and mercifully brief lampoon about a paranoid, God-fearing ranching family), his knack for understanding his characters utterly vanishes. However, the strong stories that bookend and pepper this collection far outweigh the few misses.