“Working with her … was like walking into mysterious woods, everything related and fertile but constantly changing, and always there was the exhilarating feeling that one was continually losing and then finding the way.”
That’s a line from “Fialta,” Rebecca Lee’s short story about a group of architecture students, but it could just as easily be about the experience of reading Bobcat and Other Stories. Don’t wait for happy endings here, or tidy ones: As Lee’s first-person narrators wander the wilds and woodlands of their own lives and relationships, they’re alternately charmed and enchanted, stymied and astray, sometimes in the course of a single page. Like hikers with a faulty compass, they continually lose and find their way, or at least think they do.
Lee grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada, but has taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington for 16 years. She sets Bobcat’s stories in Manhattan, in rural Wisconsin, in Hong Kong, near the Cape Fear River, and often at a university or college. Her father was a chemistry professor, and to Lee, college campuses must feel like home.
There’s nothing explicitly magical in Lee’s plots; she often builds them around mundane, everyday adult business: a faculty committee meeting, a plagiarized paper, the stress of hosting a dinner party where the marriages of some of the invited couples are falling apart. But with her smart renderings of their private anxieties, desires, and fixations, Lee’s characters are captivating. We can’t help but be drawn in as Bobcat’s narrators try to make sense of the world and the people around them. When they go off-trail, as they frequently do, we root for them to find the right path, even as we realize that in their boots we’d probably do no better.
Maybe that’s what makes these stories so compelling. Rebecca Lee knows that a map is only as good as the person holding it, and that storms blow up without warning. Sometimes we find our way out of the woods; sometimes the forests swallow us up. And maybe, Bobcat seems to suggest, to be human is to sometimes be a little bit lost.
Algonquin. 2013, 212 pages, paperback, $14.95.