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Come West and See: Stories by Maxim Loskutoff, W. W. Norton & Company, US $25.95, Pp 240, May 2018, ISBN 978-0393635584

Southernmost by Silas House, Algonquin Books/Workman Publishing Co., US $26.95, Pp 340, June 2018, ISBN 978-1616206253

If We Had Known by Elise Juska, Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group, US $26.00, Pp 320, April 2018, ISBN 978-1455561773

The Island Dwellers by Jen Silverman, Penguin Random House, US $27.00, Pp 264, May 2018, ISBN 978-0399591495

Most stories in Come West and See are set in the rural American West. Reimagining the American West, the stories bring a violent rural separatist movement back to life. Redoubt is an isolated region of Idaho, Montana, and eastern Oregon, the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge is growing into a civil war. The twelve stories explore the fragile human nature and common sentiments of loneliness and heartbreaks that are associated with love and hate. They take place in different towns of the West and evoke empathy. Each story has a different topic but also has similarities. A common thread is that the government is the enemy. Set in Montana in 1893, in “The Dancing Bear” the man holds his fire and does not kill the bear but thinks of its hide that can bring good price. At the same time, he is sexually aroused and fantasying about her breasts underneath the fur. A father leads a standoff with federal government and the mother takes a hard choice for her sons. The wife of an unemployed carpenter leaves him and he reacts by joining a militia. In reaction, the airstrikes destroy the streets of his town. In yet another story, a former soldier raises the daughter of a dead fellow soldier and takes her to a bunker beneath an abandoned farm. With the help of feelings of rage and fear, Maxim Loskutoff offers insights into what we can describe as ‘inhuman’ human nature. These stories show how weak human nature can be. Written in beautiful language, the stories reflect realism in an unapologetic way. These unconventional stories evoke love, pain and other emotions and bring out beastly human nature. The stories in Come West and See are like no other story and Maxim Loskutoff is like no other author. He is a brilliant and nonconformist new voice in fiction.

Maxim Loskutoff is a graduate of New York University’s MFA program, he is a recipient of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Global Writing Fellowship in Abu Dhabi, and the M Literary Fellowship in Bangalore. His stories have appeared in Ploughshares, Fiction, the Southern Review, and Narrative. He lives in western Montana, where he was raised.

*****

Southernmost is set in a small Tennessee town which is devastated by a catastrophic flood. As the flood recedes, Pentecostal evangelic preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to two gay men who lost their home in the flood. The gay men are a selfless couple. The floods and the selflessness of the gay couple make him see his life and his religion and everything he stands for in a completely different way. This change of heart puts everything at risk for preacher Asher Sharp including his family. His wife, who sees herself through the prism of religious prejudices, is not ready to accept her husband’s change of heart. His 8-year-old son, Justin, is caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle. His congregation turns against him after he delivers a passionate sermon to defend tolerance. After losing the respect of his congregation and support of his wife, Asher is left with fewer and fewer options. Asher flees with Justin in the middle of night to Key West to his brother, Luke, whom he had turned against after Luke came out gay several years ago. Asher finds his brother and makes amends with his estranged brother. Living clandestinely at the southernmost point of the country, Asher and Justin discover a new way of thinking and looking at the world. It is there they understand a new way of love as well. In Southernmost, Silas House meditates on love and reinterprets it. It is highly commendable and brave on the part of Silas House to show the limits of our faith and infinite ways to love. Written in beautiful prose, Silas House has created powerful characters. Southernmost is full of love and human warmth.

Silas House is the author of five novels, including A Parchment of Leaves. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and a former commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered. House is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and is the winner of the E. B. White Award, the Nautilus Award, the Appalachian Book of the Year, and the Hobson Medal for Literature.

*****

If We Had Known is set in a small town in Maine. Middle-aged Maggie Daley is a single mom who has worked hard to build her personal and professional lives. She has been teaching Freshman comp for the last three decades at the local high school. Her daughter recently graduated from the local high school and is preparing to go to college. Maggie is old-fashioned and friendless. Her husband left her because he thought she was emotionally cold and obsessed with her teaching and nothing else was important for her. She later had an affair with a married colleague. Maggie Daley believes that happier days are just around the corner when her world is shattered by the news of a mass shooting at the local mall. As the details of the shooting start coming, Maggie Daley is shocked when she learns that the gunman was one of her students. She remembers Nathan Dugan, the gunman, as an awkwardly quiet young man who had a difficult-to-understand personality. But, the worse is yet to come. She soon finds herself at the center of a national controversy when a dark, violence-filled essay written by Nathan Dugan is discovered. Media say that the overlooked essay should have raised red flags, warning and preventing the shooting. Maggie Daley had not paid enough attention to the essay at that time. The media storm grows around her and threatens to destroy not only her personal and professional lives but also those of her daughter, Anna, who is on medication and therapy for extreme anxiety and anorexia. If We Had Known is weaved around one of the most important issues of our times – the gun control. Elise Juska explores several moral and ethical questions related to the issue of gun control and who has the responsibility in the interconnected digital world. This brilliantly-written novel is a great read for those who look for good fiction built around serious issues.

Elise Juska’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in PloughsharesGettysburg ReviewThe Missouri ReviewGood HousekeepingThe Hudson Review, and many other publications. She is the recipient of the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction from Ploughshares and her work has been cited in The Best American Short Stories. She lives in Philadelphia, where she is the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of the Arts.

*****

The Island Dwellers is a debut collection of eleven stories with overlapping themes and characters. Most stories take place in the United States and Japan where the author takes you to expat bars, artist colonies, train stations and matchbox apartments. In Maria of the Grapes, two runaways are led to the underworld in Tokyo. In Pretoria, a South African expatriate wishes for the chaos of her homeland as she has to decide on a marriage proposal. In Girl Canadian Shipwreck, a young woman in Brooklyn wants to leave her boyfriend and his terrible performance art. In Maureen, an aspiring writer discovers that her beautiful but neurotic boss is lonelier than she thought earlier. In one story, a Russian migrant in Tokyo is disturbed over the money her lover accepts from a yakuza. In another story, a dead body on a drug dealer’s floor leads to a strange first date ever. In yet another story, a passive-aggressive couple in the midst of a divorce competes over whose new fling is more exotic. In these stories, you meet unforgettable and compelling characters running into one another, loving and hating one another as they experience loneliness and freedom. You also come across international nomads and lost girls in the mean streets of New York and the clean streets of Tokyo. The Island Dwellers explores the issues of loneliness, identity and sexuality, family and home.  Camilo is a feckless performance artist who does not care for sexual monogamy. Ancash is the diplomat’s son who introduces violence into his sexual encounters. Sarah is a professor in Iowa who wants to be a “bad person” with her teaching assistant, Topher, but her badness does not stay in the bedroom only. The Island Dwellers a blend of thrill and wisdom. The Island Dwellers is more of a mirror that will show the kind of life you may be living. These stories will make you smile as you feel the tenderness of life. As Jen Silverman is a playwright, she has a strong control over the characters and dialogues.

Jen Silverman is a playwright and writer. Born in the United States and raised across the United States, Europe, and Asia. Her plays have been produced in New York, regionally across the United States, and in Australia, China, and London. She is a two-time MacDowell fellow, winner of the Yale Drama Series Award for her play Still, and Susan Smith Blackburn finalist for The Moors. Her plays The roommate, and Collective rage — a play in five betties are forthcoming. She studied at the Brown University and the University of Iowa Playwrights Workshop (MFA), Juilliard.

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