TUESDAY

Shaky heroes, oddball landscapes, vicious twists: T.C. Boyle’s exquisitely detailed short stories have always been inventive but crowd-pleasing, fiendish but funny, dark but hopeful. Yet in his new collection, After the Plague—And Other Stories, the Southern California scribe with the satanic goatee and the heroin-spiked past fades to black and paints 16 tales of unrelenting isolation, each sneering piece a world-gone-mad warning shot in which faded finale rainbows are few and far between. (Of course, ever the showman, Boyle still thrills with those sudden-drop denouements.) In the opener, “Termination Dust,” a shy, hulking shopkeep in the Alaskan wilderness commences a desperate search for love before the first debilitating snowfall of the season; the story, which begins as a comedy of errors, ends in a horror show, with the narrator becoming unreliable to the extreme. “Peep Hall” details the awkward escapades of a reclusive 40-year-old writer; the solitary man spirals deep, deeper, deepest into the tawdry world of Webcams after he falls in love with a naughty, nubile neighbor. And in the apocalyptic titular tale, an elementary-school teacher is on sabbatical in the Sierra foothills when the end of the world arrives via “some sort of Ebola mutation”; oddly enough, this devastating scenario evolves into the most unexpected, most uplifting finish in the whole collection. Boyle will be in town at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25, at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s Ring Auditorium, 7th and Independence Avenue SW. $13. (202) 357-3030. (Sean Daly)