Each year I do my best to read the two short story collections that the University of Georgia Press publish as winners of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. This year, one of the two books, “The Bigness of the World” by Lori Ostlund, has deservedly been seeing some attention. So, I’m going to write a bit about “Black Elvis” by Geoffrey Becker, the other winning title this year.

The collection contains twelve great stories that walk that fine line between serious and funny. The protagonists are frequently artistic — musicians, painters and the like — and rarely very successful. They tend to be on the road and in search of themselves.  Not completely across the board but it happens enough that I’d be willing to say it’s a topic Becker is interested in. The fun for the reader is that they seem to know just as much as, if not more than, the protagonists do about themselves. And we get to watch as they move on from whatever status they reside in when the story begins, no matter how much they stagger in that moving on.

Time after time, Becker gives us a character that we grow to quickly care about, and worry about, while still allowing us to laugh at these protagonists as well. Don’t look for literary explosiveness here, nothing meta at all, but if you’re looking for a subtle touch and stories that make you wonder what happens next, even after you turn the final page, Becker’s “Black Elvis” is for you.

Dan Wickett is director and publisher of Dzanc Books, and blogs at Emerging Writers Network.

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