A Different Bed Every Time

Jac Jemc is a writer to be reckoned with. Poet, essayist and novelist (2013 Pen/Bingham Prize finalist for My Only Wife), she tests her readers with images and metaphors that dance about, distorting the narrative flow but also capturing the essence of a character, relationship or scene. A Different Bed Every Time is her first story collection, and it's naturally beautiful, like an unpolished gem. The collection doesn't center on a particular place or demographic, and with 42 pieces packed into 160 pages, it's not a novel masquerading as connected stories. Rather, Jemc offers up a little of the magical realism of Sophie Calle's conceptual pieces. These one- or two-page stories are like prose poems, almost fairy tales--as if Mother Goose were hanging out in the bars of Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood.

The protagonists are mostly women: young, brash, antsy for love and adventure but also harboring a touch of self-doubt ("remember that time your ex-boyfriend called you masochistic and how it made you feel accomplished"). They have quirky lovers, difficult parents and conspiring siblings. Circumstances toss them about "like tumbleweeds rolling until a truck sweeps us up and pitches us out again." Sex is ever present. The longest story, "The Tackiness of Souls," begins with a boring office party flirtation and ends at 4 a.m. in a Golden Nugget diner where "Minnie is arranging silverware into architecture [and] Daniel talks about Hegel." This is a collection best tasted slowly to savor its rich tangy variety, like late-night grazing at a Madrid tapas bar. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kansas.

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