Book Review: ‘You or a Loved One’ by Gabriel Houck

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You or a Loved One

Gabriel Houck, Orison Books

Mission Creek Festival: Nonfiction Writing Program Showcase

Prairie Lights Bookstore — Wednesday, April 3 at 7 p.m.

You or a Loved One is an arresting collection of short stories by New Orleans native Gabriel Houck.

Houck, who earned an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, is currently a lecturer in the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. On April 3, he will join fellow UI Nonfiction Writing Program alumni Jennifer Cheng and Lawrence Ypil for the Nonfiction Writing Program Showcase at Prairie Lights Bookstore as part of this year’s Mission Creek Festival.

In You or a Loved One — Houck’s debut and winner of the 2017 Orison Fiction Prize — readers enter the harsh worlds inhabited by a motley assortment of characters occupying different (and often unenviable) stations in life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Struggling to stay afloat while drifting toward an uncertain future, the characters are haunted by childhood yearnings, lifelong regrets and the possibility of hope as they are beaten down by the daily grind.

Bizarre situations with shocking turns occur amidst the staleness of everyday existence. Lives can be altered by the unthinkable as quickly as lightning can strike.

Houck plays with narrative structure, and through this play, his intense yet elegant prose illustrates human frailty with humor and pathos. Throughout these stories are moments of eerie familiarity, from the characters’ thoughts to simple gestures they display.

The author has an uncanny talent for describing memories and dreams with keen observations of physical surroundings, showing how they are intertwined.

The story “Al, Off the Grid” contains a line worth pondering: “How funny that memory and imagination are verses of the same song.”

Not since Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son (1992) or Jeremy Robert Johnson’s Angel Dust Apocalypse (2005) has a body of short fiction resonated so deeply with this reviewer.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 261.

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