Someone has vandalized the Total Planet Food Co-op. The floor is littered with chick peas and black turtle beans, homegrown potatoes and Brown Cow yoghurt, knobbly carrots, trail mix, and boxes upon boxes of Celestial Seasonings herbal tea. Surely this is the work of the Beast, a half-bear, half-ram capable (some say) of taking on human form. But is the Beast secretly Chuck, a disgruntled co-op member? Or Mr. Belfast, the churchgoing manager of the competing A& P? Or is it, as one character theorizes, simply a "metaphor for Capitalism"?Readers of Robert Nichols' short stories will find his United States of America to be a place that is at once familiar and yet strangely different. In rural Vermont, Mr. Goss discovers his monthly utility bill includes a $31 surcharge to pay for the murder of four Nicaraguan villagers ("That seemed low," he muses). A Midwest bus station becomes home to countless Indians and Haitians, brought by buses that arrive but never depart. And a remote stretch of Maine seacoast known for its "extraordinary tides" is suddenly littered with corpses--from the Bhopal chemical disaster.Throughout these stories, Robert Nichols' moral outrage is the more eloquent for being muted. His characters continually confront the intrusion of the grotesque and absurd into everyday life with an understated puzzlement reminiscent of Kafka's Joseph K. Depicting a world in which the comfortable and well-off are denied the luxury of isolation from those who suffer, these stories are--like Mr. Goss's unusually sensitve electric meter--a place "where the invisible and hidden is measured."
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