in her debut collection of short stories, Paige Cooper uses outlandish settings to foreground the complexities of human relationships. In “Spiderhole,” a former soldier stuck in a dying relationship vacations at acoastal resort, but the unassuming gives way to the curious when it’s casually revealed that dinosaurs are the destination’s feature entertainment. The narrator is disgusted when he sees a tourist riding a T. Rex — the monster is so big that “the size of it bombs his brain twice.” Jurassic Park comes to mind, but Cooper manages to push her story, brutally and expertly, past the established limits of strangeness. “Moriah,” meanwhile, follows a band of men, all pariahs due to their records of sexual assault, who have quietly taken up residence in the titular town. Their solace is a weekly visit from a librarian, a woman also named Moriah. Cooper’s twist: an enormous “savage bird” presides over the community, and she can be summoned — and sent into a frenzy — by the sound of a steam whistle that is, incidentally, under Moriah’s care.
Fantastical details aside, each of Zolitude’s fourteen stories explores intimacy as a basic need and the ways love can be articulated, perceived, and frustrated. The result is a collection that is often astonishing and occasionally crests the extraordinary.
— Cody Klippenstein