cover image Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead: Stories

Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead: Stories

Alan DeNiro, . . Small Beer, $16 (215pp) ISBN 978-1-931520-17-1

A commitment to experimental structure and oddball elements provides this debut collection's consistency, but they often devolve into a kind of self-conscious blandness that blunts the stories' impact. In "The Caliber," a high school girl's fantasy-turned-comic-nightmare about her lost uncle and a shadowy federal agent provides the structure for a complex tale where layered foreshadowing threatens to thicken to pudding. The darkly humorous allegorical experience of married archeologists largely consists of the narrator's wife digging a hole in their living room in "The Excavation." In "Quiver," a Wal-Mart employee stumbles into a group of medieval time travelers (by virtue of a contact through her ex-husband, a monster truck driver) and thwarts their destructive plan; this story rocks along with an amusing gait and an attractive tongue-in-cheek tone. The best of these 16 stories are arresting; weaker pieces—often very short ones—seem more exercise than serious compositions. (The most clever piece, "The Exchanges," is also the worst story.) But the collection argues for DeNiro as a writer to watch and bodes well for further non-self-published releases from Kelly Link's Small Beer Press. (July 1)