cover image The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs

The Man with Eight Pairs of Legs

Leslie Kirk Campbell. Sarabande, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-946448-88-0

Campbell’s engaging debut collection is marked by surprising encounters and poignant reflections. In the title story, Harriet, a reclusive high school teacher, meets a stranger named Callahan at a bar, who regales the barroom’s crowd with the story of a mine explosion. Harriet invites him home and learns he had been in the mine blast and lost his legs. Callahan moves in with her, bringing his extra pairs of prosthetics, and Harriet wishes she could also have a way to reflect her pain externally. “City of Angels” begins as a coming-of-age story about a group of seventh graders who take weekend bus trips to Santa Monica Beach. Years later, the narrator meets her former childhood friend and, instead of revealing trauma in her own life, thinks of those long-ago days. In “Nightlight,” Reiner breaks into his deceased neighbor’s house after his wife Beth thinks she sees a light on, only to discover Federico, a teen squatter with a penchant for Heidegger. Reiner continues to visit Federico without telling Beth, to talk poetry and drink wine. Campbell’s lyrical prose doesn’t always land (“His dark hair was greased, rolled back from his brow like a scroll,” she writes of Callahan), but the longing of the characters consistently resonates. It doesn’t break new ground, but it’s good at what it does. (Feb.)