The characters in these stories by Diane Cook are placed in situations where they have to consider the essentials of life and death and what lengths they’ll go to to survive—or just to obtain the thing they consider essential. For example, the boys in “The Not-Needed Forest” must decide what to do to survive when winter comes as they are stranded alone in the forest. And once they’ve made that dreadful decision, they have to also decide when to stop. How and what they choose reveals who they are, deep inside.
Many of the stories seem to take place in a world like, but not quite the same as, our own. The rules and expectations are different. Office workers have a plan in place for a monster invasion in “It’s Coming.” In “Moving On,” widows and widowers are sent to live in special homes waiting for adoption, much like animals living in shelters. The idea of people being treated like animals turns up more than once. The main character in “A Wanted Man” is another animal who is looking for a home but is turned into breeding stock. Strange events are treated like natural occurrences that could happen to anyone, like the descent of an admiring crowd who invade a woman’s yard and eventually her home in “The Mast Year.”
A few stories are set in what appears to be our world, with the oddness coming entirely from the natures of the characters. “Girl on Girl,” for example, is a story of shifting loyalties among teenage girls in which friendship becomes an act of violence. In “Meteorologist Dave Santana,” a woman constructs a fantasy of what her life is, but the reality is more ordinary. Similarly, the lifeboat story “Man v Nature” shows a trio of men constructing a fantasy to explain why they’re stranded on the water when in fact their unwillingness to be truthful put them there.
These are dark little stories, infused with black humor. I enjoyed them for their weird surprises. I don’t know that they revealed anything particularly profound about human nature—people will do strange things to get what they want seems to be the central idea—but sometimes weirdness is enough to make me feel a story is worth my time. The originality of these stories is in the situations they depict and Cook’s straightforward, almost matter-of-fact way of describing the situations, almost as if they weren’t strange at all.
I received this book for review consideration from Harper Collins.