cover image Aerialists


Mark Mayer. Bloomsbury, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-63557-217-9

Mayer’s high-wire debut exposes the weirdness of everyday life. In the title story, a young man about to follow his brother into the navy constructs a computer-generated simulacrum of his neighborhood. Animals are featured in several stories: in “The Evasive Magnolio,” the caretaker for a town’s dying mascot, a former circus elephant, has to plan its funeral; in “The Wilderness Act,” a middle-aged outdoors advocate, unfamiliar with the online dating scene, begins to date a woman who hopes to see a mountain lion. Other stories feature children, including “Strongman,” in which a child of divorce falls under the influence of his mother’s friend, a female bodybuilder, and “The April Thief,” in which a boy is asked to care for a disease-ridden dog until his estranged mother returns home. And then there are stories with idiosyncratic characters: Uncle Bart is a Marxist who lives in the basement and cares for his orphaned nephew along with his cancer-survivor wife in “Solidarity Forever.” A divorced real estate agent has the inner life of a killer clown in “The Clown.” And in “The Ringmaster,” an electrical engineer has a difficult time giving away his extensive model railroad. Mayer wittily subverts reader expectations with stories told in a realistic manner about characters or situations that all share a slightly surreal bent, resulting in a clever collection. (Feb.)