I Hold a Wolf by the Ears: Stories

Farrar. Jun. 2020. 224p. ISBN 9780374102098. $26. F
In her newest short fiction collection, van den Berg (The Third Hotel) serves up an assortment of complex and satisfying not–quite–ghost stories. These deceptively dense tales often visit similar territory—women, less successful younger sisters or slightly flawed daughters, who have missed some imperceptible benchmark in life—yet there is no sense of sameness. Rather, in stories ranging from “Your Second Wife,” in which a woman makes a living impersonating dead spouses, to the discomfiting “Karolina,” where in the aftermath of a Mexico City earthquake a woman’s homeless sister-in-law forces her to confront a buried history of family violence, van den Berg mines the broad overlap among loss, defeat, and horror with a deft touch, backlit by the unsettling effects of travel, natural disasters, death, and that thin membrane between the supernatural and the simply strange. The ghosts in her stories are her narrators’ better, unachieved selves, the dread embodied in the realization of how easy it is to miss life’s transitions from before to after.
VERDICT These well-crafted and intelligent stories about the many ways a life can be haunted will gratify readers who enjoy perceptive, slightly gothic tales.
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