The skull beneath the skin: Ghost Pains, by Jessi Jezewska Stevens, reviewed

Hell, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, is other people. Jessi Jezewska Stevens would nominate parties. Social catastrophe can stem from the invitation: ‘Email!’ she laments. ‘The way all modern tragedies begin.’ She homes in on the space between what a woman thinks and says and does. Her anti-heroines can be relied on to make wrong decisions – men, marriage, nipple-piercing and, of course, parties. The choice invariably ends in failure. Ghost Pains is a collection of 11 stories, sardonic and elegant, imbued with a sense of isolation and self-awareness. Stevens’s women throw spectacularly disastrous parties. And attend them. The result can be amusing for the reader while being grievous for the

A study of isolation: The Late Americans, by Brandon Taylor, reviewed

The Late Americans, Brandon Taylor’s second novel, follows the lives of a group of friends living in Iowa City over the span of a year. Early on, Seamus, a poet completing his master’s degree, imagines an ‘indifferent God… squinting at them as they went about their lives on the circuits like little automata in an exhibit called The Late Americans’, and this is a fine description of the novel. Each character is the focus of a chapter, and we watch as Seamus, Fyodor, Ivan, Timo, Noah, Bea, Fatima and Daw’s lives overlap, in bars, seminar rooms and dance studios, while they negotiate their place in a world determined by their