The Entire Predicament 

by Lucy Corin
(Tin House)

If prudence allowed, I would populate this review with nothing but passages from Lucy Corin's mesmerizing collection of stories, The Entire Predicament. My notes are filled with sentences and paragraphs that beg to be shared, but my job requires more than rote reproductions of Corin's delicious prose. For demonstrative purposes, allow me one, from "My Favorite Dentist": "My insurance covers everything but a dollar, which I pay in quarters over a smooth white countertop. Then I drive toward home through the drizzle, feeling my teeth. The sky is an unrumpled gray. Home is not far but it takes a long time with all the lights. Also, because of the sniper, a lot of people are trying to drive with their heads ducked."

Corin begins the paragraph with the banalities of insurance copays (however oddly covered by loose change) and post-cleaning dental sensations. The atmosphere is summarily rendered, and we get a traffic report before the narrator shrugs off a few words about "the sniper," as if an invisible assassin was as ordinary as a left exit. Then, she concludes with a terrific image of busy thoroughfares, where cars appear to drive themselves, humans hunched and cowering inside.

Nearly every page of The Entire Predicament packs this sort of efficient wallop, where an economy of words lulls the reader into a false sense of the quotidian, only to be casually shanghaied with devastating information. Corin's characters have a hard time in the world: They obsessively report adulterers to cuckolded spouses, birth babies with "bendy bones," and organize their neuroses while bound and gagged in empty homes.

Corin's loaded, minimal prose has earned her comparisons to short story masters Amy Hempel and Lydia Davis. I was also reminded of Miranda July and Julie Hecht's stories, where worrisome protagonists exist tenuously on their skittish instincts.

As for our dental patient, who finally makes her way home through the traffic: She's greeted by her neighbor, Andrea, who plans to elude the sniper by walking everywhere zigzag. "Andrea explains to me that the whole reason she's home is her boss gave everyone the day off because he and his wife decided to keep their kids out of school and just, you know, 'value them,' and he thought everyone should go home and do the same. So Andrea's home freaking out with her plants, and she wants some company." And so the story begins.

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