Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain
"Don't tell me about bad boys," writes Lucia Perillo. "I've seen my black clouds come and go." What she's also seen are some pretty dark-minded women—from a solitary mother addicted to cough syrup to a mistreated housewife who dreams of armed robbery. In the hands of a less-talented writer, these characters would turn out hard-boiled and, worse, hard to love. Instead, Perillo infuses each one with joy and humor, celebrating the best intentions behind the worst choices. The stunner of the collection is "Big-Dot Day," in which a mother and her young son, Arnie, set off from Las Vegas to the Washington coast, following yet another "new guy," who has plans to work a salmon boat. Left alone in the motel room, Arnie hatches a plan to go fishing—and what he catches (hint: it's not a fish) turns out to be both amazing and hilarious yet so quietly indicative of this boy's loneliness that you have to sit for a while, contemplating how it is that we all survive growing up. Relentlessly compassionate, this is a collection for the mistake makers and trying-as-hard-as-we-canners of the world—which probably means all of us.
— By Leigh Newman