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GA Voice - - 2015 Atlanta Pride Event Guide -

And they lived hap­pily ever af­ter. Even to­day, years af­ter you’ve out­grown fairy tales, those words make you smile. Oh, how you love a happy end­ing, even though (and maybe be­cause) life doesn’t al­ways work out that way.

As a mat­ter of fact, in “Noth­ing Looks Fa­mil­iar,” a new short-story col­lec­tion by Shawn Syms, sad end­ings don’t al­ways hap­pen, ei­ther.

Worst case sce­nario: If it all goes well, God will­ing, ev­ery­thing will turn out all right— but if not, life goes on. We’ll live through it, just like the peo­ple in these sto­ries.

A job in a slaugh­ter­house, for in­stance, is just a job, and while Wanda would rather work some­where else, there’s no real rea­son to move on. In­stead, in “On the Line,” she takes lovers from ev­ery­where but the kill floor. No­body knows she does it, un­til she sleeps with the wrong man—a man whose wife is Wanda’s co-worker.

Be­cause he had few friends (“He’d never been good at keep­ing” them), Adam was sur­prised that Shaggy wanted to hang out. They never did much, just a lit­tle may­hem now and then, but in “Four Pills,” the ta­bles are about to turn.

Gimli, Man­i­toba is a tiny town perched on the shores of Lake Win­nipeg. Sammy, who’s eight years old, and Cindy, who’s just a baby, might have loved it there some­day, but their mother had to get them away from there. The fumes from the drugs she made were no good for the kids; nei­ther were the peo­ple she worked with or the tiny house where they mixed. In “Fam­ily Cir­cus,” the kids’ mother starts mak­ing plans for es­cape.

Peo­ple didn’t have to like Brenda Fox­wor­thy: she liked her­self enough. As one of the Pop­u­lar Girls, she got away with ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing mean­ness to Dean and his friends, Preet and Rickie. Did Brenda hate their sex­u­al­ity or their nerdi­ness? It didn’t mat­ter, be­cause in “Get Brenda Fox­wor­thy,” the three had plenty of other rea­sons for re­venge.

When Sean and Kate in­her­ited a house from Kate’s dad, they also in­her­ited an ec- cen­tric ten­ant that they rarely saw. In “Man, Woman, and Child,” Les Mon­tague was a harm­less old guy…wasn’t he?

Un­set­tling. That’s a good word to use when de­scrib­ing the 11 short sto­ries in­side “Noth­ing Looks Fa­mil­iar.” Read­ing this book, in fact, is a lit­tle like watch­ing an ac­ci­dent that you’re pow­er­less to stop and can’t un-see. For sure, what you’ll read here will make you squirm. But that’s not a bad thing, oddly enough. I found my­self rather ad­dicted to the sto­ries that au­thor Shawn Syms tells, even though they left me dan­gling, won­der­ing what hap­pened next. Another odd­ity: the char­ac­ters in these sto­ries aren’t par­tic­u­larly like­able, which leads to a cer­tain amount of schaden­freude, or a smug, sat­is­fied feel­ing that things didn’t go so well for them.

These are sto­ries that will tap you on the shoul­der days af­ter you’ve fin­ished the book. They’ll keep you awake, pon­der­ing. If you’re not care­ful, “Noth­ing Looks Fa­mil­iar” could haunt you ever af­ter.

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