The first story in this collection entitled “Lizard Man” is a sharp and glorious concoction, containing potent irony, and acute misery. According to Hoyle: it is a story about men in trouble who are too afraid to end it all.I will not envy “Lizard Man”!

It is too good, bitter, and hopeful. We quickly come to find out that our narrator is uncomfortably occupying the fringes of life, sans family, and tending grill at a local diner. He has been offered this employment life vest from his friend Cam. Both men have a son, and this rapidly becomes a story about how fathers and sons rarely communicate, and when they do, you sometimes find out that there are secrets chained in the backyard.

Cam makes a discovery that will change the course of this story, while our narrator snaps us back a few years in his memory to a time when he realized something about his own son. There isn’t an easy way for fathers to help their son’s through those awkward years of sexual awakening, or guess how everyone will react when Dad finds out with whom you are locking tongues with. The funny bits of this story revolve around Cam being trapped inside an alligator’s mouth, and a little girl holding her prized balloon. Then it rains sadness, indelible regret, nostalgia, which hangs on our narrator like something off the rack. Mr. Poissant leaves the best for the last five hundred words, and if you stick around long enough the last story in the collection will keep you…well you’ll see.

Brig is a man caught between the ghost of a wife gone away and a local one-armed girl. A brutally sad story about loneliness and how comfortable you can get inside of it, despite the fact that it’s raining shit. “Amputee” is a tale of two pieces of string too short to use. It’s part hallucination, with a smidge of hopefulness sprinkled on for good measure. Brig is running after a cat, and stumbles over a young girl that looks like his ex-wife. It is hard not to find something redeeming in a character that is drawn to the youthful blush of a much younger woman. I admired his headlong tumble into this danger zone, they smoke pot together, get naked, and along the way she reflects on the dirty diaper landscape that is Brigs life. This story slides around the room like a dust bunny, just out of reach, and a wobbly reminder of the things you may have done, or regretted not doing.

The sadness continues in “The End of Aaron”, and its set up by a short-short story before it called “100% Cotton”. It wouldn’t be fair to let loose the beauty of either of these stories, but lets just say that this is what the end of the world looks like, or, at least the end of your world if you were the creation of Mr. Poissant. I got the sense that these characters came out of the author in one breath, to paraphrase John Irving. I think that is an important point to make. There is a welcomed sameness to these people, like residents of a small town sitting in a church basement telling their stories. I liked the fear-laced vernacular, worrying out loud somehow helps it taste better, especially the folks that make up “The End of Aaron”. In these two stories there is a general sense that death is coming for you, even if you didn’t leave the house.

The contemporary world comes rushing in as dueling parents, (absurdly intellectually minded despite their underachievement’s in the job market), they come looking for a way out of their shitty lives in the story “Refund”. Dad want’s a way to live his life normally, and can’t seem to rise above his mashed potato sandwich job as a telemarketer, much like Brig in “Amputee”. As luck would have it, he isn’t married to a go-getter, his better half works at the local mall selling make-up. They live in an upscale town, houses set out like shrimp on a silver tray, while the other subjects of this gilded enclave find new and exciting ways to impress each other. I was struck by the strength of the father’s voice in all of this, his pull towards his own son, and how perfectly rendered it was. He wants the boy to be a kid, but also wants to protect him from everything, until it’s too late to do anything at all.

It was too early to worry about “The Geometry of Despair” Part 1 and 2 when I opened the ARC to see what the names of the stories were. But I worried anyway. Two part stories keep me up at night. Richard and Lisa have suffered the one thing that breaks marriages, the death of a child. When Richard says, “you can’t measure misery,” he is more right than even he knows. When he walks down the stairs in the morning, fixing to leave for good, it’s the expansive front lawn (endless it seems, and he can’t possibly navigate it) and his wife Lisa that hold him back from taking that final step out the door. I felt as if I were standing in the kitchen with them, sensing a kind of spiked heat floating around, it seethed, and will warp you. Then the door slams behind you in part 2. Maybe you were a little too close to the edge of pond, and your second child, the one that was supposed to save a marriage that never should have gone on after the first child went in the ground, and maybe you should have left. But you didn’t leave because staying and suffering was better than leaving and suffering. A riddle wrapped in a pun. It isn’t anything worth sharing, a child’s death, but David James Poissant does it with grace. From here it would be unfair of me to tell you more about this collection, so why spoil it?