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Stories Anchored in Place, From Japan to the U.S.-Mexican Border

By Wendy J. Fox
183 pp. Santa Fe Writers Project. Paper, $15.95.

This heartfelt linked collection follows a constellation of co-workers at a small company in Denver through the start of their employment, their eventual layoffs during a market downturn, and beyond. These are far from your typical corporate straights. An artist lies her way into a job, looking for a stable paycheck and independence from her exploitative boyfriend. A hippie leaves her family and commune to join capitalist, bureaucratic society. A spreadsheet-loving data analyst tries to chart the limits of her courage and her happiness. A workaholic manager traces her lost marriage alongside her company’s decline.

In this book, Fox asks what makes a life meaningful. Each story tunes into a crisis moment when the characters are caught between their current life and a risky outward trajectory. The data analyst has to choose between her husband and a man she met at a party, setting off a delicious affair. The young artist must choose between her artist boyfriend and a co-worker, between someone who projects his importance and someone who simply enjoys the pleasure of her company. The hippie must choose between a safe, conventional corporate life and the gravitational pull of home, where people live in hollowed-out buses, host nightly drum circles and subsistence farm for survival.

Fox’s prose is laced with tenderness, exploring lives measured in acceptance, kindness and connection. Even while moving insightfully through the more alienating facets of office culture — networking parties, breakroom concerns — Fox invests most of all in what makes us people over workers: those closely held moments pregnant with change, when a new life could break open if we just reach for the person next to us. This wide-ranging collection even travels to a future moon colony in “The Human,” where two of the former co-workers cling together, feeling content though they are literally burning up and turning to ash. In one of the most moving stories, “The Center of the Circle,” the hippie shaves all her hair in an act of transformation, and her childhood love anoints her body with oil, trying to persuade her to stay in the commune, the gentleness between them laying bare their lives and what they have to offer each other.

By Blake Sanz
204 pp. University of Iowa. Paper, $16.

This engaging debut collection observes wrongdoers trying to make things right, and those wronged learning to forgive. While Part I, “The Lives of Saints,” follows disparate characters — an addict trying to regain the straight path his father wanted for him, a burlesque teacher holding class in a church — the book’s more powerful stories arrive in Part II, “Manuel and Tommy,” which follows one family as it breaks apart and then puts itself back together. The adult son, Tomás, a literature-loving college basketball player turned journalist, still resents his father, Manuel — once a young political artist in Mexico and then a failed screen-print maker in Louisiana, pulled through life by discontent and naïveté — for abandoning him when he was a child. Emi, Manuel’s teenage daughter from another crumbled marriage, tries to create a new family for herself with her best friend, Frida.

Apsny News English

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