Robin McLean's award-winning debut short story collection, Reptile House, is inhabited by killers and thieves, astronauts, moose hunters and country club ladies, all seeking some way out, some new door to imagined happiness. The characters in these nine stories abandon families, plot assassinations, nurse vendettas, tease, taunt, and terrorize. They retaliate for bad marriages, derail their lives with desires and delusions, and wait decades for lovers. How far will we go to escape to a better dream? What consequences must we face for hope and fantasy? McLean's stories probe the underbelly of human behavior, revealing the darker motivations behind the chilling interactions she breathes to life. The stories are strange, often disturbing and funny, as full of foolishness and ugliness as they are of the wisdom and beauty all around us.
Portland author Polly Dugan's novel, The Sweetheart Deal, is the poignant story of what happens when a woman who thinks she's lost everything has the chance to love again. Leo has long joked that, in the event of his death, he wants his best friend Garrett, a lifelong bachelor, to marry his wife, Audrey. One drunken night, he goes so far as to make Garrett promise to do so. Then, twelve years later, Leo, a veteran firefighter, dies in a skiing accident. As Audrey navigates her new role as widow and single parent, Garrett quits his job in Boston and buys a one-way ticket out west. Before long, Audrey's feelings for Garrett become more than platonic, and Garrett finds himself falling for Audrey, her boys, and their life together in Portland. When Audrey finds out about the drunken pact from years ago, though, the harmless promise that brought Garrett into her world becomes the obstacle to his remaining in it.