cover image Mystery Lights

Mystery Lights

Lena Valencia. Tin House, $17.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-959030-62-1

Valencia’s accomplished debut collection portrays female characters in stark relief against unforgiving desert settings. In “The Reclamation,” a middle-aged woman attends a “self-actualization bootcamp” in the Coachella Valley. When her yurt mate disappears, she sets off on an increasingly dangerous walk across the “dried out and unwelcoming” landscape to find her. In the title story, Wendy arrives in Marfa, Tex., to supervise a marketing campaign for the reboot of a TV show only to find her efforts derailed by masses of young women devoted to an influencer who preaches “purity through chaos.” In “The White Place,” a standout entry, an unnamed artist reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe has an affair with a much younger ceramicist, who flatters her and her work in exchange for an introduction to her art dealer. In these stories, women are often in competition with each other; for instance, when the unnamed artist learns her lover has impregnated a 17-year-old, she exerts her influence to change the course of the younger woman’s life. Throughout, Valencia exhibits a mastery of plot and keen perception of her characters’s vulnerabilities. These alluring stories deserve a wide readership. Agent: Michelle Brower, Trellis Literary. (Aug.)