cover image Last Day on Earth

Last Day on Earth

Eric Puchner. Scribner, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4780-7

Ray Bradbury meets Tom Perrotta in the new collection by Puchner (Model Home), which blends science fiction with the all-too-real suburban horrors of deadbeat dads, unsupervised teens, and the onset of mental illness. In the instant classic “Beautiful Monsters,” a brother and sister rearing themselves in a world where parents are extinct encounter their first adult. Hints of fantasy turn out to be something more nefarious in pieces such as “Mothership,” in which a troubled woman finds her identity inexplicably fusing with her sister’s when she takes her own niece and nephew trick-or-treating; “Right This Instant,” in which an emotionally fragile boy becomes convinced his mother is a robot; and “Expression,” in which a precocious wannabe writer learns a lesson from the prowler stalking his arts camp. Then there are the bleakest stories, including “Heavenland,” in which a young father attending a coke party refuses to let his infant ruin his fun, and the title story, in which a harried single mom gives her son’s German shorthairs a 48-hour ultimatum. Other tales feature aging punk rockers, vindictive divorcées, and ready-to-snap bookstore employees, completing Puchner’s composite of everyday desperation. Agent: Dorian Karchmar, WME Entertainment. (Feb.)