cover image The Low Desert: Stories

The Low Desert: Stories

Tod Goldberg. Counterpoint, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-64009-336-2

By turn surreal, tragic, and darkly funny, the 12 stories in this exquisite collection from Goldberg (Gangster Nation) hold up a mirror to the unique landscape of Southern California’s Inland Empire. In the astonishing title story, set in 1962, the body of a child is found on the shore of the Salton Sea. The Korean War vet hired to run security for the oil company that’s developing a resort community along the body of water is forced to confront the Chicago-based mobsters who are backing it. In the slyly amusing “Professor Rainmaker,” a professor of hydrology at Cal State Fullerton invents a new kind of sprinkler system, and starts a profitable side hustle cultivating marijuana, while “The Spare” fills in the memorable backstory of how Vegas hit man–turned–rabbi Sal Cupertine’s parents fled west from Chicago. A waitress whose adopted daughter has gone missing dutifully drives several hours to visit her incarcerated husband in the unforgettable character study, “Pilgrims.” With a cast of low-rent mobsters, drifters, and hardscrabble working stiffs, Goldberg does a brilliant job of revealing the underbelly of the area, past and present. These spare slices of literary noir are the work of a master storyteller. Agent: Jennie Dunham, Dunham Literary. (Feb.)