cover image Sidle Creek

Sidle Creek

Jolene McIlwain. Melville House, $17.99 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-68589-041-4

McIlwain’s impressive debut collection spotlights the hard-edged people who call rural western Pennsylvania home. In the title story, a father and daughter bond while fishing in a creek with reputedly healing waters. The girl’s mother has left them, and her father claims the water will help her endometriosis symptoms. In the luminous, Ovid-like “The Fractal Geometry of Grief,” a widower falls in love with a doe that seems to embody his late wife, prompting him to protect her from local hunters. The harrowing “Loosed” introduces Luke, a struggling egg farmer who goes from staging cockfights to dogfights, and finally and most lucratively pits his own four sons against each other in bloody hand-to-hand combat. “The Less Said” features a group of city-slicker deer hunters who frequent a local bar. After a tech-savvy volunteer at the local library finds internet videos of the group torturing locals, mainly young women, at their hunting camp, a group of seasoned and principled hunters evens the score. The author demonstrates the blessings and horrors of a close-knit community with great skill and understanding. Throughout, McIlwain’s reverent regard for the natural world makes her a worthy successor of Annie Dillard. Agent: Nicole Cunningham, Book Group. (May)