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The stories in Jen Michalski’s new collection reveal an America in which ideas of genuine community ring false and the spiritual backbone of family life is damaged, perhaps beyond repair. Characters, many of them queer Gen-Xers of a certain age, find themselves looking―often desperately―for a way to understand the lives they’ve lived and a way to move forward with at least the possibility of future happiness. In “Long Haul,” a gay man visits his estranged uncle to lay to rest the unresolved guilt they both feel over the childhood disappearance of his sister. In “Great White” a gay man who was the sperm donor to a lesbian friend’s pregnancy, is confronted with the possibility of genuine parenthood when the friend’s partner dies and she is laid-low by grief. And in the title story, a young woman affirms her sexuality by having an affair with her brother’s wife; the fallout leading her to regain her footing only when she befriends an elderly gay couple vacationing in the area. In stories that relentlessly demonstrate the tensions of the 21st century, Michalski’s THE COMPANY OF STRANGERS provides a sometimes comical, sometimes touching portrait of what is perhaps our most pressing question: How do we make a life?
“A kaleidoscopic and candid exploration of the gritty corners of our desires and all that is left unsaid. By turns irreverent and deeply heartbreaking, Michalski masterfully constructs a collage of sexuality, belonging, and a search for what is possible atop strip malls, parking lots, and bowling alleys. Reminiscent, in some ways, of the genre-pushing work of Zach Doss, Etgar Keret, and Kim Chinquee, Michalski unequivocally carves out a space that is all her own—daring, deeply human, and often gut-wrenching.” —Sequoia Nagamatsu, National Bestselling author of How High We Go in the Dark
“Fueled by love, longing, and regret, these captivating stories drop us into the lives of people we come to care deeply about. These are rich, wild, surprising romps of stories with endings that wow. What an immense pleasure to be in the company of these strangers, thanks to Jen Michalski's brilliant storytelling.” —Kathy Anderson, author of Bull and Other Stories
“Prepare to be plunged into the unexpected (Turkey calmer, anyone? Meteor?). Jen Michalski is at her melancholy, hopeful, big-hearted best in this gorgeous collection of stories where the aching past―filled with might-have-beens and never-weres―resonate and haunt.” —Leslie Pietrzyk, author of Admit This to No One
“The Company of Strangers is a thoughtful and thorough dive into community with its hope, falsehoods, and trappings. These fantastic characters hilariously broke my heart. They struggle to make a life out of desire and disappointments, and I rooted for everyone. If Lily King and Alice Munro had a queer prose baby, it would be Jen Michalski.” —Melissa Scholes Young, author of The Hive and Flood
Fiction. LGBTQ+ Studies. Short Stories.
Author Website Interview @ Masters Review
Jen Michalski is the author of three novels, three short story collections, and a couplet of novellas. Her latest novel, You'll Be Fine, was a 2021 Buzzfeed "Best Small Press Book," a 2022 Next Generation Indie Book Awards Finalist, and was selected as one of the "Best Books We Read This Year" by the Independent Press Review. She's the editor of the weekly online literary weekly jmww and currently lives in Southern California, although she will always be a Baltimore girl by heart.