Playwright Jen Silverman's deliciously addictive debut short story collection, The Island Dwellers, collects 11 stories mostly set on the islands of New York City and Tokyo, Japan. Each story is told from a first-person perspective, but many of the characters make appearances in more than one tale. We first meet the beguiling and brash Ancash in "Maria of the Grapes" when club hostess Maria tries to seduce him. When she discovers he's a gay prostitute, their friendship expands until they fall into bed together. In "Mamushi," Ancash tells how as a 17-year-old he had an affair with a man twice his age. In order to feel anything, Ancash encourages the man to beat him.
In the very funny "Surveillance," hypochondriac narrator Sammy takes some breaks between worrying whether she has a brain tumor and why one breast is larger (and warmer to the touch) than the other to deal with her two friends Agnes and Oliver. Agnes is paranoid but Sammy muses, "The thing about paranoia in the twenty-first century is that, at some point, it's impossible to know if you're crazy, or if you're astute." Oliver is a pet-sitter with a high mortality rate for pets under his supervision. "I just feel like the universe is trying to tell me something," he says.
Silverman's disarming and unconventional characters are all searching for a connection with others. Some are battling loneliness or the fear of being alone but they're all blessed with quick wits and warmth. This is an outstanding short story debut. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant