@

Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, Rob Roberge’s first story collection (he’s authored two novels) explores variations on the idea of families crumbling around the fractured life of one member. Roberge’s stories are very conscious of the defeated souls they highlight, and excavate these weak links to reveal the context that created them.

Matt Bell sees potential that the rest of us don’t. He refuses to limit himself to established literary conventions, instead reaching beyond the expected tropes-suicide in the family, the mental weight brought on by a mysterious murder, short-lived love-to reassess for more powerful, and wholly more interesting, possibilities. Bell’s suicide story addresses the implied self-reflection by centering around a blueprint-obsessed son of the deceased, literally giving form to the boy’s hope of a rebuilt family (“A Certain Number of Bedrooms, A Certain Number of Baths”). Bell’s mysterious murder story isn’t a whodunit, but more of a who-woundn’t-have-dunit and tricks the reader into sympathizing with the assumed murderer (“Dredge”). His short-lived love story is romantic only in its endearing hopelessness, following an orally obsessed bar patron from the bar stool to the toilet stall, bar-fly one-night-stand in hand (“Mantoeda”). Yet despite Bell’s renaissance approach to story types, he has crafted a thematically cohesive and structurally invincible collection with How They Were Found.

Stay God is Baltimore noir starring 20-something drug dealing cinephiles. Damon, the lead in this movie-infused drug-and-love story, strives to placate, and to embrace his girlfriend’s dreams of a better future while sadly failing to even maintain their delicate present. Theirs is a relationship mortared by a genuine affection, by a shared love of obscure movies and music. This is the relationship we all want, and therefore the relationship we all want to succeed. But Mary’s past relationship with Damon’s supplier proves to be a difficult hurdle.