These eight short stories pack a punch. These are dark, moody pieces: not emo moody or overwrought angst, but a steady, grim reality without forced optimism or cheer. But in a good way, a great way: the writing is exceptional, the storytelling vibrant, and the characters are maddeningly real.Laken's gift as a storyteller is that you still want to read, despite the painful awkwardness or the grim uneasiness the characters face. In 'Family Planning' a lesbian couple is in Russia to adopt a baby when they learn they can chose between two children. This story had me literally wiggling with discomfort: the characters made me uncomfortable because I know people like them and this very simple set up was just heavy with implication and inevitability and promises of painful disappointment. It was discomforting because it felt so real.The tone of the stories just isn't for me -- but it's absolutely my tastes and not any knock against Laken. However, two absolutely grabbed me -- again, for the fantastic writing and great characterization: 'Map of the City', which has a very autobiographical feel, featuring a young American woman from the Midwest living in Russia in the early '90s; and the titular story, a side by side account of an evening from the viewpoints of an injured father and his teenaged son.My wife, who loves Shirley Jackson, Aimee Bender, and Herman Melville, Danish films, and New England winters, adored this collection. I had passed the book to her just to read a single story and didn't get it back until she had finished the entire thing. I think this would be a great selection for book groups -- these stories invite conversation about relationships and the choices one would make -- and anyone who enjoys fiction that is a little more raw but still well-written.