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Death, despair, and cerebral sickness bind the nine separate stories in Adam Haslett’s poignant debut collection, You Are Not a Stranger Here. A nutty inventor’s obsessive desire to build a better bicycle obstructs his last chance to share his true feelings with his neglected son, Graham: “Unfortunately, some of my children bored me. Graham never did.” A lonely psychiatrist seeks solace in the tragic tale of a mother whose methamphetamine-addled son chops off her fingers just days before he dies in a car crash. An orphaned high-schooler gains emotional gratification in the beat-downs he receives at the hands of his homophobic classmate. A suicidal manic-depressive discovers self-worth through conversations with a child ravaged by psoriasis. A man succumbing to AIDS quarantines himself to pen repeated notes to his deceased father in anticipation of their reunion in the graveyard. Nightmarish premonitions of the classic Cassandra/Christopher Walken variety torment a 12-year-old boy, whose tragic sixth sense, inherited from his father, allows him to foresee his beloved brother’s looming doom. A ghostly delusion named Hester appears during a child’s birth, only to strangle the infant dead and haunt the schizophrenic mother evermore. The darkness that pervades these stories perhaps reveals Haslett’s inner anguish, which one conflicted character hints at the meaning of: “I want to figure out the relationship between the desire for theoretical knowledge and certain kinds of despair.” Haslett’s in town at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 1, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919. (Chris Shott)