University of Iowa (2004), $15.95
In case you've ever wondered whether sharp wits, good education, and a keen sense of observation equal happiness, this collection of short stories insists they do not. Instead it seems to chronicle different acts in one not-particularly-happy life. In "It Couldn't Be More Beautiful," the central character is the intelligent but runty younger sister to a glamour girl; she vies for her older sibling's attention, but then so does everyone else. "The Marrying Kind" locates a similar person, older and more bitter, attending the wedding of an ex. And "Our Little Lone Star" finds the same bright, guarded girl a mother now, temporarily left to her own devices and trying like hell just to relax.
Iowa Short Fiction Award-winning author Merrill Feitell (who worked at SF Weekly long ago) isn't out to beat her readers over the head with sadness, and her main characters are not irritating people. They're just alienated. Ellie in "It Couldn't ..." describes an evocative mixture of loneliness and hope: "I hang up and lie on the gravel for a while longer. It's aching to get dark. Every bush and tree looks like it's slipping on another layer, something a little warmer and gray. I am hoping that Carly will come looking for me, that she alone will find me on the far side of the car." Feitell's writing is rich and worked-on, its texture carefully woven, her characters' labors a worthwhile way to spend some time.