(Future Tense Books)

It makes perfect sense that Genevieve Hudson’s fierce collection of short stories, Pretend We Live Here, found a home at Future Tense Books. Previous releases from the Portland small press (like Wish You Were Me by Myriam Gurba and Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz) indicate that editor and publisher Kevin Sampsell takes pride in publishing works that offer a sideways perspective. Hudson’s stories are of the same mold, and she reveals that even familiar objects and scenarios have strange, dark-sided contours.

The collected worlds of Pretend We Live Here prove how rare it is for queerness, rather than straightness, to be taken for granted as the accepted norm. Several of the collection’s stand-out stories center on coming-of-age experience, which is ripe terrain for Hudson. Hudson is a writer with a deep investment in exploring the ways our bodies shape a sense of who we are and how we try to shape our bodies to better align with what we want to be.

In “Scarecrow,” the narrator, Crow, films the sometimes-violent antics of her best friend Jed and his half-brother Little Joey. Crow says she’s making a documentary about skateboarding in Alabama, but really, she’s seeking to capture, “that feeling of being ugly to the world.” She can’t be a lesbian, she tells the reader, because she’s in love with Jed, who fondly tells her she’s “exactly like a boy.” Here, as in many of the collection’s stories, Hudson explores how the wires of desire get crossed. Does Crow want to kiss Jed, or does she want to be him?

Hudson’s visceral prose needles into the reader’s veins, especially when she’s writing about yearning, which her adult characters feel just as urgently as her adolescent ones. Their desires range from the conventionally transgressive, like sex with someone who’s off-limits, to the surreal—like the subject of “Transplant,” who has her dead loved one’s eyeballs implanted in the back of her skull.

Likewise in “Fast, Fast, Fast,” the narrator, who’s in an open marriage, pursues an ostensibly straight woman, who is monogamously married. Hudson deftly devotes the first page and a half to contemplation of this unavailable crush’s Instagram feed, and ends the story with the narrator and her crush witnessing a strange and unexpected disaster. Here, as elsewhere in Pretend We Live Here, Hudson captures the way we feed our obsessions—those metaphorical lion cubs with whom we decide to live—as we do our best to pretend that one day they won’t tear us limb from limb.