cover image Potato Tree

Potato Tree

James Sallis, . . Host, $25 (175pp) ISBN 978-0-924047-40-4

Readers unfamiliar with versatile author Sallis (Drive ), slated to receive a lifetime achievement award at this year's Bouchercon, will get a flavor of his unique gifts in this collection of 41 short stories, many no more than two or three pages long. These are probably best sampled in small doses, so that the well-chosen phrases and haunting images can linger on the mental palate. A few, like "53rd American Dream," an account of a family of cannibals, and "Notes," an obscure collection of endnotes without a main text, fall flat, especially compared with the book's high points. "Others," an account of an isolated man living vicariously through personal ads, and "Alaska," a taut vignette about an emergency-room encounter between former lovers, are standouts, but virtually all the selections have at least one memorable moment. Some of the odd turns are reminiscent of Paul Auster's earliest works, and many successfully convey human loneliness and despair in a way that Cornell Woolrich would have found familiar. (Apr.)