A middle aged pet store employee takes his cat on a quest to Las Vegas, while a teenager cares for—or perhaps moons over—the abandoned plants of a neighbor he had a crush on. Peer into a world where a person’s future can be forecast via their partner’s kitten poster of choice. These are a few of the delicacies on offer in Best Worst American, by Juan Martinez. This collection of short pieces from Small Beer Press is a buffet of subtle literary constructions, a mix of sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) portraits about people getting by, mostly, in contemporary American settings.
Many of the stories in Best Worst American lie on the shadowy borders of the literary and fabulist genres. In “Roadblock,” for example, an aunt and nephew find themselves at odds when tragedy forces them to live together. The aunt keeps setting the nephew’s things on fire… somehow. Her targets are random and improbable: she ignites coffee at one point, and sets his coat afire in a airport. The mechanism for her pyrokinetics is never explained, as it might be in a more straight-up fantasy. The result is an eerie and unsettling story about loss, survivor guilt, and the arbitrary nature of family ties.