I’m a big fan of the first-person point of view, for both its emphasis on voice and the intimacy it can foster between reader and narrator. Collections of first-person stories, however, are risky. The narrators are often interchangeable, their cookie-cutter sensibilities obscuring each story’s distinguishing characteristics. But Holiday Reinhorn avoids this pitfall in her debut collection, Big Cats (Free Press). Her narrators–male and female, of varying ages–are all quite distinct. What they share is a tendency to be fresh out of a meltdown and stumbling through familiar terrain: service jobs, therapy groups, semifunctional relationships. “Get Away From Me, David,” reminiscent of George Saunders’s absurdist tales of workplace angst, features a recently sober loan officer whose mounting desperation about his lost love and hateful job finds its outlet in an emergency stash of DayQuil. In the title story, two horny teenage girls end up in a knock-down, drag-out fight at the zoo where they’ve landed summer jobs. Too young to have encountered much loss, they look to each other’s single moms for insult ammo: when one lashes out with “Hysterectomy!” the other screams “Abortion!” Of course, their malice is complicated: “I want to hate-kiss her over and over and smash her teeth,” the narrator says of her friend turned nemesis. Throughout, the wounded characters’ moral ambivalence shines through. Wed 9/21, 7:30 PM, Barbara’s Bookstore, 1218 S. Halsted, 312-413-2665.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kirsten Lara Getchell.