cover image Little Sinners and Other Stories

Little Sinners and Other Stories

Karen Brown. Univ. of Nebraska, $17.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-8032-4342-2

Trauma and desire are the dual muses of Brown’s (Pins and Needles) excellent new collection, whose 11 stories explore femininity and dark secrets of the middle class in late-20th-century America. Starting with the title story, about two friends whose cruel childhood prank has unexpected consequences, Brown delivers engaging gems with well-drawn heroines, mostly teenage girls or unhappy wives, whose fates are twisted by the interplay of love and death. Stuck in stifling suburban settings, they struggle to overcome the trauma of loss, either from dead parents, siblings, and children—as in “Passing,” “Mistresses,” “Housewifery,” and “An Heiress Walks into a Bar”—or from the failure of erotic relationships, as in “Homing,” “The Fountain,” and “Swimming.” Brown has a talent for evocative detail, but her ability to explore the perversities of memory and desire in haunting prose is her greatest strength: in “Stillborn,” a pregnant woman uncovers a baby’s remains in the garden of her new house; a wife confronting her husband’s lack of love offers solace to a man whose daughter has died in “Leaf House.” While occasionally marred by overly precious flourishes, the suspenseful writing and menacing erotic tension have a narrative pull that compels attention. (Sept. 1)