“Nature” by Jonathan Harper from Daydreamers (Lethe Press, 2015).

This collection will be released in March. I was given an advanced reader copy by the publisher.

This story is set against the backdrop of the Paradise Ink tattoo parlor. The shop is owned by main character August’s older cousin, Libby. August is a slender twenty-three year old guy with no sense of himself. If this were a visual art he’d be muted, rendered in grays. By contrast Libby is in sharp focus. She’s vivid. Her roommate and business partner Trevor is less defined, but the reader gets a clear picture of the last character in Libby’s sphere, a second rate tattoo artist named Nick.

August is almost catatonic. He seems unable to feel anything or make any sort of decision, so it’s only natural he gravitates toward these other characters, this place. Tattooing and other forms of body modification—Libby, Trevor and Nick have a side business hosting suspension parties—provoke change to raise self-awareness and help an individual find his/her power. Libby even says, “I am finally coming into my own power.” Of course, what a thing is supposed to be isn’t always what it is. A customer leaves the shop with a shamrock tattoo he contemplated for mere minutes, and Nick exerts his power over August, the same way, we’re told, he exerted it over his ex-girlfriend Veronica. He coerces August. But then again, August wants to be led.

Once again, lots to think about.