The central characters in Elissa Schappell’s Blueprints for Building Better Girls go through their lives, like most of us, accompanied by an inner narrator.  The inner narrator for Schappell’s characters is more antagonist than friend: it’s the voice of fairy tales, of high school hallway gossip, of what their mother told them was permissible for girls (“Men and horses sweat, ladies perspire”). These women and girls know the roles available to them. They know the postures to adopt, the lines to speak; they know what’s expected of a Southern debutante, or a girl with a bad reputation, or a woman who’s just had a miscarriage.

The stories in Gary Lutz’s first three collections often derive their linguistic energy from a narrator’s imprisonment in an ill-fated marriage, a soul-crushing job, or a body that causes more anxiety than joy. His most recent collection, Divorcer, continues to worry at the subject of confinement.  Narrators make frequent reference to the inescapable dictates of their DNA: “I wasn’t foremost even in my body,” one says, “where my parents spoke themselves up out of my disposition.” Time, too, seems to resemble a cage: “One day got chocked into the next: there was a blockiness to time, like a month’s evident rectangulation on a calendar tacked fast to a wall.” (“I Have to Feel Halved”) Hours get “razored into ever keener minutes that [can] barely cut anything away.” (“Middleton”) Evenings are “narrowing”; sleep is “unramifying” (“To Whom Might I Have Concerned?”). Lutz’s stories have the urgency of a phone call made just before a plane crash. His narrators live in existences that, claustrophobic to begin with, are now closing in on them even more. They have no time for small talk or pleasantries.