The Unsettling By Peter Rock 

Review by JUSTIN W. SANDERS

The Unsettling is quietly acclaimed local author Peter Rock's first collection of short stories. They are a strange lot—beautifully written, dreamlike, but like dreams, frequently ambiguous, brimming with eerie, colorful details that are rarely, if ever, fully explained.

"He uses Japanese words that most Japanese would not know, English words that Americans would never encounter," Rock writes of Asada, a Japanese American translator of technical manuals who embarks on a hike to see a ghost in "Shaken." "Together, these two groups of words are like a third language—one beset by redundancy, with two words for every single thing, with almost no one to share it." Such eloquent arranging of uncomplicated language is typical Rock, and here it gorgeously illustrates Asada's literal predicament, which is a mirror of his metaphorical predicament. Asada is caught in something that someone else might be able to understand, if he could figure out how to communicate it. The ghost he encounters will tell him something that will offer a flicker of clarity—but only a flicker; the rest is up to him, and us. Rock's work is fraught with the beginnings of change.

In the collection's most riveting story, "The Silent Men," a 30-something waitress dispatches the dishwasher she's sleeping with to spy on two regular customers who never say a word. His experience with them will stir his and her life in strange and intriguing ways. In "Disappeared Girls," the collection's best story, a young woman on a train accepts an invitation from a stranger to follow him. Rock loves to find lost characters who crave such a potentially dangerous shakeup—but the end result is always surprising. In this case, the woman is told she is part of a dream the man has had, information that throws her very existence into startling perspective.

It's tempting to call Rock's stories incomplete, but that implies carelessness, and they are anything but that. A feeling that something is lost permeates them, but also a feeling that it can be found again, if only you look hard enough.

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