Places Like These

Loneliness and fragility are at the heart of the stories in Places Like These from Canadian author Lauren Carter (This Has Nothing to Do with You). These 17 elegant tales focus on Canadian women who experience various forms of emptiness. Some of the pieces highlight family dilemmas, such as the woman in "Bones" whose joy over a marriage proposal is tempered by the upcoming trial of her stepbrother. Others are more spiritual, as in "Culture Shock," about a Toronto woman traveling to Argentina to "disturb the cold layer that had settled itself over her nine-to-five life." And the powerful "Point of Ignition" features a college student trying to overcome her drinking problem by dating a classmate, only to discover a closer kinship to her boyfriend's troubled brother.

Carter sets her stories in many locales, including Ontario and San Francisco--"Tenderloin," set in the California city's grungy Tenderloin district, is a standout--and they all confront the pain of dislocation and lives that haven't turned out as planned. A couple of works are too elliptical, but most are beautiful, such as "Triple Feature," a poignant story of older people dealing with past regrets, and "Stories," a wrenching piece about a woman whose aspiring-writer boyfriend steals details she shares and puts them in a story. The narrator of "Grass Fire," a long-married woman whose husband makes a startling confession, realizes she's lived "under a heft of cascaded rubble, sipping at any available air." The same is true of most of the women in this impressive collection. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

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