Adam B. Vary
April 11, 2005 AT 04:00 AM EDT

EW reviews two debut story collections

These uncanny, clear-eyed debuts prove just how mutable the short story can be. In Controlled Burn, Scott Wolven fixates relentlessly on men pressed hard into booze, drugs, crime, and violence, for whom life is barely more than sweating in New England timber yards or lugging scrap metal in the desert West. Wolven writes with a spare, pulp prose that doesn’t much care if it engages the reader or not. Come to me, he seems to dare. In We’re in Trouble, Christopher Coake, meanwhile, is wildly engaging as he explores one theme — love in the face of harrowing death (or near-death) — from seemingly every angle, be it an elderly couple confronting the polluted ache of cancer or a thirty-something screwup plunged into maturity when his young godson is suddenly orphaned. Coake’s compassion feels lush compared with Wolven’s coarse yarns, but both have mastered storytelling at modest lengths.

Burn: B+

Trouble: A-

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