Structurally ambitious flash fiction that examines all the ways—great and small—in which characters can be haunted.The monsters in this latest collection from multigenre writer Brennan (Little Dark, 2014, etc.) range from the recognizable (ghosts, zombies) to the whimsical (a talking cat) to the darkly realistic (brain damage, a cancer diagnosis). These 39 stories, many of which are only a few pages long and some of which clock in at just a paragraph, foreground their construction: they are as much about language and form as they are about plot and character. In the title story, a father tells the tale of his daughter’s traumatic brain injury, and as the story progresses, nonsense words get subtly swapped for real ones, mimicking the breakdown of language the daughter goes through. “Last Quartet” is about four characters on a road trip—one of whom is dying—and every paragraph is comprised of four sentences, each devoted to a different person’s perspective. But if this all seems overly dour or overly fussy, it isn’t. Each story is infused with humor, most often a wry treatment of character and a deadpan delivery. (“To Whom It May Concern in My Creative Writing Class: A ‘fascinator’ is a kind of hat,” one narrator abruptly explains.) The stories can veer into the absurd, too, as in “The Corpse and Its Admirers,” the story of three women, perhaps at a funeral home, who engage in increasingly outlandish behavior in the presence of the family patriarch’s corpse. And, as is so often the case with absurdism, if there aren’t many happy endings for Brennan’s characters (or, really, any endings at all), the reader is luckier: there is delight in merely reading these innovative and unusual stories. An impressive mixture of emotional exploration and formal experiment.


Brimming with real and imagined monsters, Brennan (The Garden in Which I Walk) delivers striking meditations on memory, time, fragility, and strength. In the title story, a father visits his impaired daughter and her roommate, who resembles a giant field mouse. In “10 Birds,” the narrator wakes to find the bedroom invaded by a bevy of doves. “Pete, Waste Lab Technician,” centers on a fearless morgue custodian plagued by roving shadows and a group of chatty zombies with a penchant for theoretical physics. There is a compelling conflict that unifies these stories. As one of the many nameless narrators explains, “There’d been a time, I felt certain, that duplicated this time, but was not remembered.” The narratives dwell in stark duality: the endless duplication of life, and the temporal condition of shared existence. The majority of the characters in this book speak of routine, predictable occurrences. But these tales—some less than a page—are not conventional; they’re beautifully strange and often surreal. Brennan introduces fantastical elements that dramatically transform relatable characters and familiar settings into something new, like a family adopting a talking cat. Brennan’s collection of compassionate and intelligent fiction is a showcase for a very skilled author. (Oct.)