Vile Men: By Rebecca Jones-Howe, 189 pgs. By Jim Woster

I’d forgotten that the literary establishment doesn’t often do ugly until I read Rebecca Jones-Howe’s first collection of short stories. In Vile Men, Jones-Howe forges into our collective sexual grotesque of victims and predators and discovers actual human beings everywhere she looks. In that sense, this is a ferociously political book—as Tobias Wolff said, “[The] most radical political writing of all is that which makes you aware of the reality of another human being.”

The collection begins with a woman who only has sex with a paper bag over her head, and if you think you know what kind of a woman would do that—well, you don’t. And there’s a kidnapping story that would have rattled Flannery O’Connor.

The book’s prose is usually a now-traditional, first-person present tense: “On the way home I stop at the grocery store to buy a bag of ice for my drink, and I stand at the checkout counter, clutching the bag in both hands like it’s a shield.” The welcome effect is one of the author getting out of the way of her fairly indelible characters.

Dark House Press mainly publishes horror in the traditional sense of the word. The cover of Vile Men looks like the cover of a traditional horror novel, which might be a shame, or it might be an eye-grabbing paperback cover meant to get great fiction into the hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise notice it. –Jim Woster (Dark House Press, thedarkhousepress.com)