cover image Sex Romp Gone Wrong

Sex Romp Gone Wrong

Julia Ridley Smith. Blair, $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-958888-11-7

Smith’s savvy debut collection captures women navigating friendships, love, and desire. The narrator of “Don’t Breathe, Breathe” goes directly from a mammogram appointment to a friend’s 50th birthday bash at a beach house on the North Carolina coast, where the group’s alcohol-fueled banter leads to painful reckonings about consent and personal responsibility as they look back on their younger years. In “Cleopatra’s Needle,” a 20-something woman mentally escapes her dead-end office job and dead-end relationship with an older married man by contemplating alternate story lines for herself, such as a torrid affair with a brash, age-appropriate co-worker. Some of the more experimental entries wobble in comparison to the more traditional fare (the narrator of “Tooth” is surprised to find a tooth in her mouth that isn’t her own), but Smith expertly captures the cadence of her protagonists’ conversations, and she nails their often affluent, mostly white milieu: “Bottles lined the countertop like warheads—white, pink, red; vodka, gin, bourbon—a liquid arsenal against the onslaught of age.” Smith exhibits a keen perception in her well-crafted stories. (Feb.)