cover image The Best That You Can Do: Stories

The Best That You Can Do: Stories

Amina Gautier. Soft Skull, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-59376-758-7

The protagonists of this powerful and cohesive collection of vignettes from Gautier (The Loss of All Lost Things) grapple with the civil rights era’s legacy of violence and unfulfilled promise. The 14-year-old narrator of “Quarter Rican” misses her home in Brooklyn during a visit to Puerto Rico, where her uncle insults her mixed ancestry. “Making a Way,” set in 1968, looks mournfully at the deaths of prominent civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. The next generation is portrayed starkly in “Thankful Chinese,” which describes how a family regularly chows down on takeout while watching The Cosby Show, which presents a healthier and more ordered life than the one they’re resigned to (“We slip the fortunes from their cookies, then toss them without reading; we already know our future”). “Breathe,” set in an unspecified time, blends imagery from 1960s civil rights crackdowns with allusions to modern-day police killings of Black people, successfully collapsing past and present. In it, a woman attends an academic conference and participates in a “die-in” between panels to protest police killings of Black people, reflecting on her relative safety compared to protesters who march on the street. Often, the characters’ emotions feel like the sharp tips of an iceberg, but in “Howl,” about a woman who calls her mother after a breakup and wails despondently in a “Wolf” language, those feelings come messily to the surface. Gautier’s flashes of familial angst and political commentary ignite each entry. This packs a stinging punch. (Jan.)