HOW WE DISAPPEAR explores the missing and those searching for their place

How We Disappear: Novella & Stories 

Tara Lynn Masih

Press 53 Books: Sept. 13, 2022

166 pages, $17.95

Short story collections are often treated like second-class citizens in the publishing and bookselling world. Big publishers often release them as the first book of an author they believe has great potential as a novelist, since first-time authors have a backlog of stories that have been published in literary journals. Or they’re a convenient gap-filler between novels for successful authors. (Of course, there is a handful of authors whose reputation is based mostly or solely on story collections, like Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, Joan Silber, and Karen Bender.)

Most short fiction collections are published by small independent publishers. One of those is Press 53 based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’ve found Press 53 to be a reliable source of accomplished writers of short fiction, like Jodi Paloni, Liz Prato, Wendy J. Fox, Kelly Cherry, Virginia Pye, Julie Zuckerman, and Clifford Garstang.

So it’s no surprise that Tara Lynn Masih’s How We Disappear: Novella & Stories is an impressive collection of stories, flash fiction, and a “novella” (at 30 pages, it’s more of a long story). Masih is a keen observer of the conflicts people face and the decisions they make, and she covers a lot of ground, literally and figuratively, with stories set in a wide range of times and places.

There is a sense of mystery and absence in most of these pieces. In the opening “What You Can’t See in the Picture,” a special investigator known as a super-recognizer uses an online database of photos and videos to search for a kidnapped girl. “Fleeing Gravity” follows an orphan of a Cree mother and White trapper who has visions and ultimately finds his place as the caretaker of a ghost town. In “Bird Man” the narrator’s father, a WWII pilot, crashed and died in Belgium, disappearing from her life when she was only three. Her mother told her that he was out there flying and would eventually return. Years later, she travels to Belgium and meets the elderly woman who adopted his grave 20 years earlier. “Agatha: A Life in Unauthorized Fragments” explores the legendary mystery writer’s famous 11-day disappearance in 1945 when her husband ran off with his longtime mistress.

Masih was new to me, but she was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award for Young Readers for her debut novel My Real Name Is Hanna and is the editor of The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. She has another short story collection, Where the Dog Star Never Glows (Press 53, 2010), which I intend to read soon.

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One comment

  1. Sounds like a great collection, Bill. And many thanks for the shout out for my collection, SHELF LIFE OF HAPPINESS, and for Press 53. I love the collections of the other Press 53 authors whom you mentioned. It’s a gem of a press!

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