cover image Further Joy

Further Joy

John Brandon. McSweeney's, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-1-938073-94-6

In his first collection of short stories, Brandon (A Million Heavens) puts forth 11 satisfying portraits of small-town American life and the complex lives of the people who inhabit those communities. With sprightly precision, he chronicles familiar scenes: a couple sitting on the front porch, strangers conversing at bar, neighbors chatting over the balcony. Yet behind these quaint images of quotidian life exists a common human desire for excitement, purpose, and passion. In many of the stories, characters go to extreme ends to maintain their images, create new ones, or realize their imagined lives. Some indulge in illegal schemes to regain lost wealth ("The Favorite"); others simply reflect upon the lives they've made for themselves ("The Picnickers"). While Brandon's language is accessible and humorous, at times it cannot relieve the drabness of the circumstances he's portraying. The collection does have stories that contain mysterious happenings%E2%80%94strange objects appear out of nowhere in one character's home in "The Differing Views," friends go missing in "Palatka," and in "The Inland News" past murder cases resurface%E2%80%94but these stories are less successful. Brandon is at his best when transforming the unremarkable into something worth giving a second glance. (June)