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Alyson Hagy. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-55597-818-1

Hagy (Boleto) probes the weight of responsibility and the desperation of survival in a deteriorated society in this evocative, opaque tale. The unnamed protagonist once wrote letters for the survivors of an unexplained war and collapse of civilization. In the new, mostly illiterate world, her writings held strange powers of persuasion and absolution. Now she hosts the Uninvited—a nomadic population that worships her deceased sister’s healing gifts—in the fields around her secluded home and remains mostly uninvolved with the local power squabbles. When Hendricks, a strange man bearing signs of a dark past, arrives to request a letter detailing his sins, she squashes her natural suspicion of strangers and agrees to his request. Her work on this catalogue of misdeeds leads to a mesmeric blending of memory and hallucination that dredges up the protagonist’s guilt over her sister’s death and the desperate things she’s done to survive. Then, Hendricks seemingly accidentally kills an Uninvited child the protagonist dotes on, and the repercussions threaten to engulf her tenuous control over her land. Compelled by her hallucinations and attraction to Hendricks to fulfill her promise, the letter writer requests permission from local enforcer Billy Kingery for safe passage to deliver Hendricks’s letter, and Billy’s sabotage leads to a violent, disturbing conclusion involving more slippages between reality and dreams. The vagueness of setting, supernatural elements, and only partially revealed histories amp up the eeriness of this disquieting novel. (Oct.)