Gonzalo Riedel, Insomniac Press, insomniacpress.com, $19.95
If you’ve ever jumped to a brash conclusion, acted desperately while crawling through rush-hour traffic or even contemplated killing your spouse, Behaving This Way Is All I Have Left by Gonzalo Riedel (Insomniac Press) will make you laugh, and maybe cry a little too. I laughed inappropriately aloud at the many last-ditch attempts made by the characters in this collection of short stories to save face in the middle of some disastrous episode. I cried when it was all over because of the special breed of empathy you have to feel for these deadbeats and scumbags who can’t help but make mistakes. Riedel’s aptly titled collection is populated by characters who, in amazing denial, cling to hope where any right-minded person would just give up; for instance, the woman who, almost feeling regret for poisoning her husband, pleads with him to stop thinking only of himself and to just give up and die already. How Riedel makes such horrific episodes so perversely funny remains a mystery. Maybe, though we’d rather not admit it, we all know someone who resembles pathetic characters like the restaurant owner turned arsonist who, caught in his own lie in the interrogation room, lunges for the exit as if he might escape. Each story in Behaving This Way Is All I Have Left reads like a short, vivid scene plucked from a motion picture in which the plot twists until tragedy finally strikes. I turned each page in suspense, wondering what fate awaited our character, like waiting for the famous shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho. You go from asking, “How could this possibly end well?” to “How could this possibly get worse?” Reader be warned: there are no happy endings here, but I dare you not to laugh and cry for more as Riedel describes hitting rock-bottom over and over again.