“If a Stranger Approaches You” is Laura Kasischke’s first collection of short stories. It is published by Sarabande Books. Sarabande is an independent non-profit literary press. Sarabande, like other indie presses, offer an outlet to excellent writers who for financial or other reasons cannot receive the attention they deserve. It is not that Ms. Kasischke is a novice. She has two Pushcart Prizes and is a recipient of the 2011 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for “Space in Chains”. She teaches in the MFA Program at the University of Michigan. If she teaches as well as she writes, her students are blessed.
As a medium, short stories exemplify the expression that “less is more”. A number of her stories are no more than 3 pages. “The Skill” is an example. It takes you on a journey that reflects some instability but turns very dark. The young girl’s “skill” is either coincidental or fatalistic. She is a virus that ultimately tires of her host and then survives. “The Barge” a longer story that begins innocently and then extends the theme of a girl and her “rag doll”. I had to reread the last two pages to believe where it led. “Search Continues for Elderly Man” also leaves you hoping it is a dream. “Memorial” another 3 page story, is imaginative, but pleasantly so. It brings alive a statute dedicated to children who were burned in a deliberately set fire.
Some of the stories are shaded in irony, while others misdirect the reader and question morality. “If a Stranger Approaches You about Carrying a Foreign Object with You onto the Plane” is a post-9/11 story that is an altered moral tale. Trust is in the eye of the beholder. “Somebodies Mistress, Somebodies Wife” is surreal and gruesome. It begins with the end of a tryst, but takes an entirely different and fabulist path.
Ms. Kasischke’s writing is clean. Metaphor is by example, rather than by adjective. She is compelling because of her power to translate observation into reality and then to distort it. “Mona” a story about a mother searching the room of her perfect daughter and finding what no one would expect. “Our Father” is a twisted tale of illegal immigration and the perversion of amnesty. There are parallel understandings of what constitutes having a bad day and surviving in a hellish existence in “I Hope this is Hell.” The financial crisis story “The Foreclosure” unfortunately treads a certain region of reality.
The longest story “Melody” was the least satisfying to me. It concerns the disintegration of a marriage. The wife mistakenly believes they will have an amicable divorce. The husband, still in love, can’t hear her.