The title story of Seth Fried's The Great Frustration, a new collection out from Soft Skull, begins with a cat restlessly watching a parrot in the Garden of Eden. Fried describes a scene in taut balance: There's a lion driven to distraction by the preening of a hungry peacock, or stricken with an urge to "take [a] lamb into its jaws and, with all the force in the tremendous muscles of its neck, whip the lamb against a tree over and over again until the lamb is nothing but a skid of dripping slime on a tree trunk." The story imagines a garden full of animals eagerly waiting to lose their innocence, to be released into their own natures: As Fried wryly notes, "No blood is spilled in the garden, and so the roles of most of the animals are greatly reduced."
"The Great Frustration" is a tense, funny story, written, as are all of the stories in Fried's impressive debut, in prose that's at once perfectly controlled and irresistibly propulsive. Fried is not overly concerned with dialogue or plot—there are only a handful of quotation marks in the entire collection, and traditional narrative arcs are in short supply—but whether he's describing an annual town picnic with a shockingly high death toll, or an ugly man who serves as a sexual surrogate to a king, Fried's tightly wound parables resonate on their own bizarre terms.