There are few contemporary authors who traverse form and mode as gracefully as Donald Antrim. Originally published piecemeal in the New Yorker, the short stories in Antrim’s new collection The Emerald Light in the Air highlight the author’s strengths as a keen observer of the barely noticed and those unfortunate individuals who are doomed to make the same decisions again and again, with full knowledge of the consequences. Antrim, a 2013 recipient of a MacArthur “genius grant,” pivots away from his gleefully fantastic surreal worlds, grounding his work in emotionally captivating narratives. The suburban minefield sets and cavernous red libraries of past novels are supplanted by lonely late-night parties with strangers and five-hour phone calls with mistresses and husbands of best friends. The stories wind through the mountains and woods of Virginia and the wide avenues of Manhattan as characters struggle to reconcile missed opportunities, slow-burning anxieties, and fleeting moments of liveliness. And though the collection mostly follows dispirited protagonists, the author exercises his smart and subtle wit appropriately—the characters’ eccentricities earn laughs without any trace of self-indulgent or mocking authorial sarcasm. Sept. 16 at Politics & Prose. Free.

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