cover image Future Missionaries of America

Future Missionaries of America

Matthew Vollmer. MacAdam/Cage Publishing, $24 (224pp) ISBN 978-1-59692-312-6

This debut short story collection unveils the subtle beauty in raw grief and general disappointment with being. Vollmer plays with absurdity, the loneliness of daily existence, and the importance of taking chances. Nine of the dozen stories have appeared in journals and magazines, but the collection maintains a natural cohesion, with terrifically dark but strangely sweet characters and plotlines. One centers on a deadbeat dad who, while visiting his straightedge son (a rising X Games star), is forced to come to terms with his self-disappointment. In another, a recent widow takes an impromptu retreat to the family lake house, only to discover her estranged son sequestered with an unfamiliar man. The title piece is narrated by a teenaged punk atheist, Alex, who has developed a crush on her staunchly Christian best friend and home economics partner, David Melashanko. Though the two share every surreptitious desire and potential misdeed, Alex is heartbroken to learn that Melashenko has been keeping a secret. Vollmer masters distinct personalities and surprising plots, writing deftly from many points of view, but in most cases the story ends just as the reader becomes invested.