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Saint Lazarus Day and Other Stories, by R. Conrad Speer

Wholesome but gullible weekend market goers from the city face chaos and trauma at the organic strawberry u-pick farm. A student illegally backpacks through Cuba, attends a Santería party, and wakes up with a horrible, mysterious illness and paralysis, uncertain of the true current state. Cowboy cousins kill an endangered bear and must figure out how best to dispose of the huge corpse and its tracking collar before officials can pin it on them. An old locomotive engineer recounts his experiences in the train to police, including the struck and killed animals and people, and the unforeseen, bizarre outcome of his most recent trip. A soldier from the prairies writes home from the war, describing the deadly German gas attacks launched against the allied troops in France, even if sometimes with savoury aromas.

In an ambitious and delightful debut collection, these twenty perceptive tales present vivid if farcical characters and innocent if unsettling portraits of the landscape. It’s in those scenes—sometimes rural and often surreal—where Speer shows us our humanity with compassion, wit, and hilarity, while gently testing the reader along the way.

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