The element of surprise |

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The element of surprise

The stories in Daniel Karasik’s debut collection go off in unexpected directions; Tehmina Khan’s debut proves less adventurous

SHort fiction

Faithful and Other Stories Daniel Karasik Guernica Editions

Things She Could Never Have Tehmina Khan Mawenzi House Publishers

Daniel Karasik’s debut story collection opens with a taut chamber piece that barely fills five pages, and closes with a story – spanning 80 pages, multiple narrators, and several decades – that could easily be branded a novella. Both concern the ravages of time on the human heart and the invincibility of hunger for love regardless of conditions. Here and elsewhere in this collection, Karasik demonstrates vigour, wit, and ambition.

That arresting opener is aptly titled “Mine.” It is at once a story of possession, a bold exercise in brevity, and the staking of a claim for its author. The story delivers a bracing twist on dementia via prose that is ferociously polished, if a little overwrought. By contrast, “Witness,” winner of the Jack Hodgins Founders’ Award for Fiction, is steeped in irony. The story deploys oneiric, Kafkaesque scenarios involving animals, violence, and inexplicable incarceration as a way of exploring an aspiring writer’s existential crisis. The story witnesses little outside the perimeters of the narrator’s anxiety.

In the excellent “A Much-Loved Teacher,” a young man mistakes an accident victim for one of his former teachers; he contacts the teacher and finds himself submitting to an intimacy he considers instantly uncomfortable. The story is very good at dramatizing the way some people carry a veneer of mystery no matter how transparent they try to be, while others project a friendliness that disguises a deep-seated unease with social contracts.

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