cover image The Secrets Men Keep

The Secrets Men Keep

Mark Sampson. Now or Never Publishing (LitDistCo, North American dist.), $19.95 trade paper (177p) ISBN 978-1-926942-79-7

Offering sly comic pokes and affable satire, this memorable collection of 13 stories frequently highlights the significant gap between the empire-building ambitions of men and their humdrum and hemmed-in middle-management realities. An astute but not particularly harsh or misanthropic observer, Sampson (Sad Peninsula) dwells in fruitful and intriguing ways on the concessions, compromises, and “good enoughs” of adult heterosexual masculinity. In “The Man Room,” a circle of stoop-shouldered suburban dads take a stand in the name of manhood by capturing a rapist, and in the delightful title story, the narrator recalls a trip with his immediate family to Michigan to attend the funeral of an uncle whose decades of stealthy alcoholism impress him. The stories “Invasion Complex” and “Itaewon” offer searing portraits of young guys spreading “the global contagion of English,” whose relations with Korean women are befuddled at best and predatory at worst. Even when Sampson delves into the criminal spheres of cybercrime and organized crime in “Malware” and “In the Middle,” respectively, he illustrates how commonplace fantasies of alpha-male conquest can go awry and the usual nine-to-five grind. (Apr.)