Nobody Gets Out Alive: Stories

Leigh Newman. Scribner, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982180-30-0

Newman’s electric debut collection (after the memoir Still Points North) follows hardscrabble women in Alaska whose rough exteriors conceal myriad vulnerabilities. In “Howl Palace,” a 67-year-old woman who goes by “Dutch” has gone through five husbands and grieved the loss of one too many of the black Labs she’s cared for over the years in place of having children. Now, she’s forced to put her beloved house up for sale. Though she knows any buyer will tear it down, she starts preparations for an elaborate open house feast, during which longtime crush Carl arrives to drop off a sick dog. In the captivating title story, newlywed Katrina avoids husband Carter at a party thrown by her best friend, Neil, where guests vault over the massive skull of a mastodon. Searching for Katrina, Carter reflects on how she “shot into his life like a blond, carnivorous meteor” when they met in New York City, and considers how she left behind her past life. Here and throughout, Newman’s prose is both distinctive and efficient. In the dark and poignant “Slide and Glide,” unemployed Bobby thinks his wife is cheating and suggests they take their family to a cabin in winter, a desperate and dangerous move that serves as a summation of how he’s moved through life. The author’s crisp portrayal of the Alaskan landscape and rugged culture holds the collection—and its magnetic characters—together. Newman firmly establishes herself as a talent with these stunning stories. (Apr.)
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