cover image Eternal Night at the Nature Museum

Eternal Night at the Nature Museum

Tyler Barton. Sarabande, $16.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-946448-84-2

The 20 stories in Barton’s winsome debut collection feature offbeat protagonists who face uphill battles on their own. In “Once Nothing, Twice Shatter,” a middle-aged former radio shock jock announces demolition derbies at a cultlike compound, which he later tries to escape from. “Iowa Darter” features a museum worker with a prison record who worries about his ability to do his job and is encouraged at work by a kid in a Darth Vader costume to save a fish that’s been half-eaten by another fish. In “Ms. Badislav’s Vomit,” a 17-year-old feels close to God the night he volunteers at his church’s drive-thru window with his agitated psych teacher, Ms. Badislav. In “Watchperson,” an aggrieved self-appointed neighborhood watchman writes up a crime report after picking up a carjacking couple. The story takes on a sinister tone as the narrator reveals his applications to join the police department have been repeatedly rejected, and that he blames the police for his mother’s death 20 years earlier. Though a few of the shorter works feel scattered and fragmented, Barton lends each protagonist dignity despite them being oddballs or outsiders, and their plights are often tinged with humor that make their weird situations hard to turn away from. Despite a few bumps, Barton impresses with his fresh voice and vibrant imagination. (Nov.)