[Flatmancrooked; 2010]

Riding a wave of confidence from a flattering reflection, freelance graphic designer Joellyn enters her corner coffee shop with the abandon of a super model. She’s sexy, reckless, and invincible, and when Zachary, an unemployed man-boy, begins hitting on her, she surprises both of them by reciprocating. It’s a good deed, Joellyn thinks, giving hope to this invisible man. And though she has no intentions of calling him, something inside, below her polished, ironed surface, decides to give him a chance.

Joellyn soon begins to fall for Zachary, and after the pair’s second night together, she returns home and sits in front of her computer for hours. “I was waiting on him to call,” she says. “I can admit that now because he did call, that very afternoon.” Joellyn finds safety in Zachary’s innocuousness, in his dull resume and his weird thing for Mexico, and as she recounts their mismatched relationship to her unborn child, things seem to be heading the way of the romantic comedy. But off-screen, opposites repel more than they attract.

Though she continues to lower her defenses, there are some things that Joellyn is not prepared to face, and during an unseasonable trip to the beach, she turns away as Zachary zips off the legs of his pants. Her own hems are damp and sandy, and they irritate her ankles as she walks, but there’s dignity in this suffering. At least she’s not wearing convertible cargo pants.

Lepucki does not attempt, in this novella that reads quicker than many short stories, to stretch Joellyn beyond her limits, to sacrifice the character for the sake of a lesson, a novel, or a heartwarming conclusion. Instead, Lepucki sets herself to the more difficult task of creating charm from Joellyn’s abrasiveness. She fits Joellyn with a humor that is both natural and revealing, and by having Joellyn address her baby, Lepucki softens harsh edicts like “When a man dresses like a boy, turn and run” and transforms them into benign maternal wisdom.

There is insecurity below Joellyn’s confidence, curiosity below her obstinance, but rather than attempting the murky process of dredging, Lepucki allows these qualities to bubble smoothly up to the surface. By leaving Joellyn with her flawed, but distinct, voice, Lepucki leaves the reader wanting more. My prediction is that Edan Lepucki will continue to deliver.

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