cover image Beautiful Days

Beautiful Days

Zach Williams. Doubleday, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-0-385-55014-7

Williams’s remarkable debut collection explores grief and masculinity in stories that hint at their characters’ strange afterlives. The recently divorced narrator of “Trial Run” trudges into the office during a snowstorm, where he’s unhappily shut in with a conspiracy theorist security guard and a toxic coworker. The narrator has no love for either man, but by the story’s revelatory ending, he has turned his unforgiving gaze on himself. In “Red Light,” an oddball and increasingly tense tale, a man named Parker grows curious about the boyfriend of the woman he’s having sex with, who’s watching Parker and the woman while hiding in a closet. “Lucca Castle,” “Ghost Image,” and “Return to Crashaw” each follow a different man’s stumbling attempt to forge a new life after his wife’s death. Their respective settings—a yacht headquartering an anti-capitalist cult off the coast of Queens, N.Y., a bombed-out Disney World, and a sandstone monument that attracts UFO obsessives—are rendered in an unsettling and deeply captivating dream logic, hinting at the possibility that the narrators are already dead (the narrator of “Ghost Image,” who spots a “Hell Is Real” billboard while driving across the country, wonders if he’s “entered hell... the hell of earthbound ghosts that repeat the same actions, haunt the same spaces”). Williams’s tales deserve favorable comparison to the stories of Wells Tower and George Saunders. (June)