Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Books: Here Is What You Do

A yacht races to outrun a tsunami. A young man jailed on a drug charge forms a relationship with his cellmate that is both loving and savage. A teen raised by his out-and-proud father, a Turkish immigrant, is displaced after violence fractures his life, forever altering his sense of time and memory. A wistful mother escapes her reality and regret by losing herself in the miniature worlds she finds at the edge of the woods.

Perfect for readers of Carmen Maria Machado, Garth Greenwell, and A.M. Homes, Here Is What You Do is a powerful, timely short story collection by a vital new voice in queer fiction. Dennis’s debut is a bravura work of muscularly robust prose that captures the primal need, desire, cruelty, and promise of people trying to connect with, and consume, each other. The stories’ complex themes—trauma, addiction, the prison system, queer identity, isolation and crushing loneliness, validation, and everything in between—are tackled with an unfailing eye for human drives and frailties.

Dennis’s characters have immense psychological depth and each story drills toward their darkest emotional centers, resulting in moving prose that embraces vulnerability and grit. “In Motel Rooms” sees a fictionalized Coretta Scott King stalked and harassed by the FBI and considering the costs of her life with her husband, who is lifted up as a hero by the public, but still painfully human behind closed doors. In “Nettles,” a married couple moves out of the city and buys a rural slaughterhouse. But the strange, unnameable tension with their religious neighbors quickly escalates, and the couple struggles to retain their shaky facade of domesticity.

By turns heartrending and hopeful, Here Is What You Do refuses to shy away from the harsh realities of the flaws and saving graces that make us human.

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