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Fierce Pretty Things

In Fierce Pretty Things, Tom Howard presents a collection of short stories that delves into a fascinatingly optimistic world of apocalyptic settings. In "Hildy," a pair of siblings traverse a no-man's land in the wake of a devastating virus. In "Scarecrows," a man is stuck in the wasteland of his own dementia-ridden mind. The characters throughout this collection encapsulate the human endeavor of finding something to hold onto in the face of great tribulation. Some of the tales inhabit a world that straddles the border between reality and mysticism, while others, such as the title story, seek the complex truth of a person's soul even within the mundane surroundings of a schoolyard.

The winner of the Indiana Review's Blue Light Books Prize, this collection is composed of seemingly quiet stories that pack an emotional punch. Howard's prose is tight, finely crafted and yet lyrical in its delivery. With this even-handed, beautiful prose as a guide, Howard never underestimates his readers. Each story begins from an unfamiliar place, whether that's within the mind of a dying man or on a carnival pier in a post-apocalyptic world. Howard's fiction revels in alienating surroundings, slowly making these spaces more and more familiar and poignant. It is this assimilation into the unexpected that gives these stories and their characters their emotional salience and ultimately opens readers to a new understanding of what it means to suffer loss and yet never give up hope. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor