cover image Better Times

Better Times

Sara Batkie. Univ. of Nebraska, $17.95 trade paper (156p) ISBN 978-1-4962-0787-6

Nine tales—four from the past, four in the present, one set in the not-too-distant future—compose Batkie’s stellar debut, all memorably portraying an ineffable yearning from well-drawn characters who may have known or will know better times. “When Her Father Was an Island” pairs a Japanese girl’s longing for her MIA father throughout her life with his experience defending his country in an unnamed war on an isolated island, waiting for decades to hear whether or not the war has ended. In “Foreigners,” the arrest of a Russian family for espionage in a suburban neighborhood is the catalyst for a depressed American divorced mother with a rebellious teenaged son to reflect on how her life has imploded and isn’t what she thought it would be. “Cleavage” examines one woman’s experience with cancer—her removed breast haunts her and impacts her sensuality. And in “Those Who Left and Those Who Stayed,” a piece of Alaska splits off into the ocean, and nine townspeople forced to live on an ice floe grapple with their uncertain future in different ways. In this remarkable collection, Batkie creates strong, evocative imagery with economy and precision. She elevates both the common and uncommon experiences of her characters, resulting in something quite extraordinary. (Sept.)