Three of this summer’s debut collections of short stories address confinement and limitation in various ways. The most obvious treatment of these themes comes in Curtis Dawkins’s The Graybar Hotel, about prison life in the American Midwest, written by a convict serving a life sentence for murder. Although Dawkins no longer has recourse to the outside world for material, his observation that ‘all people are stories’ serves him well. With pathos and humour, he depicts a panoply of distinctive jailbirds: the guy willing to attempt suicide to get out of the slammer; a prisoner trying to convince the authorities that he’s pregnant; ingenious engineers of everything from chess pieces made of toilet paper to makeshift tattoo guns.
One thing that all of Dawkins’s characters have in common is a propensity for dreaming. In a place of intense boredom and long stretches of empty time, all that’s available to the inmates is fantasy. This is the main fuel for Dawkins’s fiction. With a light touch, he conveys the