cover image Black Vodka

Black Vodka

Deborah Levy. Bloomsbury, $24 (144p) ISBN 978-1-62040-672-4

Levy, author of the Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home, proves with this collection that her precision and unusual imagination are well suited to the short story form. The 10 spare stories included here explore the desire for a change in identity, in oneself and in others. In “Cave Girl,” the narrator’s sister undergoes what she refers to as a sex change, but instead of being surgically transformed into a man, she merely receives a cosmetic makeover to become “another kind of woman”—one who is more overtly feminine. In “Stardust Nation,” one man appropriates another’s memory of childhood trauma. Frequently, both personal and national identities are in play, as in “Vienna,” where a man dubs his aloof lover “middle Europe,” or when, in “Shining a Light,” a British woman, separated from her luggage in Prague, is adopted by an amiable group of Serbian expats. In the particularly strong title story, an ad executive with a hunchback perceptively notes that his date, an archaeologist, is more interested in him as a specimen than as a lover. The closing story, “A Better Way to Live,” offers a sense of hope after the downbeat preceding entries, as two people, both orphaned as children, find a new home with each other. Levy’s talent is evident throughout—though the stories themselves can be unsettling, their evocative language invites the reader to settle in. (June)